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Ten Commandments likely better than metal detectors, advocates say

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptists who have joined the push for public displays of the Ten Commandments say the recent shootings at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, prove society needs to be reminded of God’s law recorded in Exodus 20:3-17.
Janet Parshall, chief spokesperson for the Family Research Council, said the threat of violence is so prevalent that even a sizable minority of Democrats voted for a congressional measure to allow postings in government-owned buildings.
“When you have stories like we do out of Fort Worth, tell me again, why would it be bad to hang a sign that says you shouldn’t kill?” said Parshall, a member of Spotswood Baptist Church in Spotsylvania, Va.
Meanwhile, the founder of a newly formed network that advocates such displays says this year’s mass murders in Texas and at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., have so alarmed the public that many are insisting on action.
“There’s a desperation in our school system,” said California pastor Wiley Drake, who in July formed Americans United For Unity of Church and State. “Violence is still going on and kids are graduating from high school and can’t read their diplomas. People are saying, ‘We’ve tried metal detectors and everything else, maybe we ought to try the Ten Commandments.'”
The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group formerly affiliated with Focus on the Family, is lobbying for passage of a measure sponsored by Rep Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., the state where a nationally publicized battle was waged over Judge Roy Moore’s display of God’s law in his Etowah Council Circuit Court chambers. Moore, a Southern Baptist layman, prevailed.
Aderholt’s amendment to a federal juvenile offenders bill grants states the right to decide the issue of posting the Ten Commandments.
While the House of Representatives passed the amendment in June, it was not included in the Senate’s version. It is to be the subject of a House-Senate conference to discuss the differences. An aide to Aderholt said that should take place soon, but refused to speculate on an exact date.
Parshall said she has fielded a flood of inquiries from news media in recent weeks. Reporters told her they thought guns would be a hot-button item, but discovered the debate over the Ten Commandments is much bigger, she said.
“My comeback is, ‘Do you have another solution?'” she said. “We’ve got metal detectors [in public buildings]. What we need are heart detectors.”
Students are already subject to signs restricting running in the halls, talking in class and other unruly behavior, said Parshall, a former teacher. So telling them “don’t kill” and “love your neighbor” can’t hurt, she said.
Across the United States, other governments are taking steps to put the House of Representatives vote into effect. Legislators in Kentucky, Colorado and Florida have announced intentions to file bills next January that would parallel the federal statute.
In Kentucky, school boards in Jackson and Harlan counties recently voted in favor of displays in every classroom, according to a story in the Western Recorder, the state’s Baptist newspaper.
A Louisville television station reported Sept. 13 that 10 other counties and school systems in the state either permit displays or hope to make them legal. WLKY-TV said among them are Spencer County, where the Ten Commandments have hung in the courthouse for the past 20 years.
The school board in Altoona, Pa., recently adopted a proposal suggested by a local pastor to permit a school library display of religious documents, Parshall added. The board also approved a comparative religion class and an after-school session on the Ten Commandments, she said.
The Kentucky proposal will be introduced by Sheldon Baugh, a member of Post Oak Baptist Church in Russellville. He has drawn a pledge of lobbying support from Claude Witt, president of the Temperance League of Kentucky.
Witt said those who object to such displays have suggested it could open the door for Hindu and other groups’ sayings. But he dismissed that as an issue, saying that, historically, the nation allowed a religious atmosphere to exist.
“A lot of reading taught in our early schools’ history was from the Bible,” said Witt, in the midst of a four-year term as a trustee of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “A lot of course work was from the Bible. A lot of memory work included the Ten Commandments. I don’t see what all the flap is about.”
However, the American Civil Liberties Union argues that a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision clearly ruled against allowing such displays.
The ACLU helped thwart a move in late August to exhibit the biblical instructions by threatening to file a lawsuit against the Logan County, W.Va., school system. The Associated Press reported that on Aug. 27 the school board removed the postings — on notebook sheets of paper in hallways — to avoid possible lawsuits.
State School Supt. Hank Marockie also disagreed with the displays, asking if the Koran should also be displayed, since every religious group has certain values.
“It’s a cheap and easy solution to school violence,” said Hilary Chiz, executive director of West Virginia’s ACLU chapter. “But it’s offensive to some people and it’s divisive. Putting up the Ten Commandments is simply not the right thing to do.”
However, Drake responded that he has no problem with allowing other groups to erect their writings in public places. Schools already permit displays of Halloween slogans, St. Patrick’s Day slogans and others, he noted.
“They’re trying to circumvent the fact we need them up,” said Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif. “We need to get back to the Judeo-Christian principles this country was founded on.
“They’re part of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” he said. “Those principles permeate this country’s documents. We’re not asking for something new. All we’re saying is let’s get back to our roots.”
The ACLU simply wants to sanitize the cultural horizon and remove any religious expression from the marketplace, Parshall said. “They’re saying, ‘You can believe whatever you want as long as you’re in your closet and lock the door behind you.'”

Art Toalston contributed to this article.

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  • Ken Walker