WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting the display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and government offices by a 295-125 vote March 5.
Rep. Robert Aderholt sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 31 in response to a case in which an Alabama circuit court judge, Roy S. Moore, a Southern Baptist layman, had been ordered by a fellow circuit court judge to remove a hand-carved copy of the Ten Commandments in Moore’s courtroom. Aderholt is a freshman Republican from Alabama whose district includes Moore’s Etowah County jurisdiction.
No statements were issued March 6 by the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, National Association of Evangelicals, Christian Legal Society or the American Center for Law and Justice led by attorney Jay Sekulow stating their reaction to the congressional vote or their stance on displaying the Ten Commandments in public places like Moore’s courtroom.
The resolution states the Ten Commandments should be permitted in courthouses and government offices because they are “a declaration of fundamental principles that are the cornerstones of a fair and just society.”
While the resolution does not have a binding legal effect, Colleen Pinyan, Rutherford Institute public affairs coordinator, said, “Congress has taken an important step by affirming the appropriateness of public manifestations of traditional religious expression.” The Rutherford Institute, a religious liberty organization in Virginia, has been a defender of Moore’s refusal to take down his Ten Commandments plaque.
Acknowledging the resolution is “primarily a symbolic gesture,” Pinyan stated “it is important for Congress and the nation as a whole to recognize that the Ten Commandments is the foundation of our legal system.”
“The Constitution does not require us to strip from the public arena symbols such as the Ten Commandments that have historical significance simply because of their religious nature,” Pinyan continued. “If this can happen to the Ten Commandments, will there be efforts in the future to remove references to and displays of the Declaration of Independence because of its religious character?”
On the other side of the fence, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, “This is the worst politicization of religion I have seen in Congress in the 25 years I have worked in Washington.”
Noting that Moore has stated he will not remove the Ten Commandments no matter what legal rulings are rendered, Lynn said, “Judge Moore is thumbing his nose at our legal system and mocking lawful institutions of government. Congress should condemn that type of behavior, not celebrate it.”
Similar measures concerning the Ten Commandments and prayer in Alabama courtrooms are currently in committee in the state Senate.
Moore, a member of First Baptist Church, Gallant, Ala., received a reprieve from the Alabama Supreme Court Feb. 18 from a Feb. 10 court order to take down the Ten Commandments hanging in his county courtroom in Gadsden. Moore also had been ordered to discontinue saying a prayer before jury selection.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price ruled Feb. 10 that Moore’s display of the Ten Commandments is an attempt to promote religion and therefore unconstitutional. This latest ruling came after an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union of Price’s Nov. 22 decision to ban Moore’s prayers in court but allow the Ten Commandments.
Moore is appealing both of Price’s rulings to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted a stay Feb. 7 on Price’s ban of the prayers, and in response to a plea by the Alabama attorney general’s office, the court granted the Feb. 18 stay. Moore was originally given until Feb. 20 to take the Ten Commandments down.
“I’m not going to take them down,” Moore said Feb. 14. “This is not just stubbornness. I think it is the first duty of every Christian to acknowledge God.”
Gov. Fob James, meanwhile, put the state in the national spotlight with a bold statement that he would guard the Ten Commandments plaque in Moore’s courtroom with force if necessary. After making the comment to Alabama Baptists and state legislators Feb. 5, James appeared in live interviews on “CBS This Morning,” Fox News Network and CNN.
Laurie Lattimore contributed to this story.