Montgomery, Alabama — Senators in Alabama overwhelmingly voted this week to approve a ballot initiative that seeks to enshrine in the state Constitution the right to publicly display the Ten Commandments, as well as other historical documents of a religious nature.
The bill, which was sponsored by Republican Senator Gerald Dial, received nearly unanimous support, with only one nay vote.
“[A] lot of people are saying we need to begin to do some things to turn this country around,” he told reporters, speaking of the comments that he often receives from constituents.
Dial said that he hopes that displaying the Ten Commandments on public property will challenge society to reform its ways by inspecting itself in the mirror of the law of God.
Other historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence would also be protected, which makes references to “the laws of … nature’s God,” the Creator and “the protection of Divine providence.”
Senator Bryan Taylor, one of the supporters of the amendment, told USA Today that he believes many individuals and organizations are wrongly interpreting the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He said that if the ballot initiative is successful and becomes law, it may help to curb a number of “frivolous” lawsuits from atheistic and church-state separation groups.
“This constitutional amendment confirms that there are circumstances where such displays are appropriate and legal,” he said.
Alabama was at the center of national attention in 2003 when Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, now known as “the Ten Commandments judge,” was punished for displaying the Ten Commandments in the courthouse rotunda. As previously reported, in 2000, upon winning his bid and setting up his office in the courthouse, Moore he arranged for a two-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments to be displayed in the building, which was installed the following year.
Soon after, Moore was slammed with two lawsuits from three separate groups: the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Civil rights attorney Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center soon emerged as the central opponent to Moore’s display, arguing that the chief justice “placed this monument here to acknowledge the sovereignty of God over the affairs of men.”
Following a battle in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, who ruled that the display was unconstitutional as it violated the Establishment Clause, District Court Judge Myron Thompson then ordered Moore to remove the Ten Commandments from the courthouse rotunda within fifteen days. Moore refused, but the monument was later moved to a room that was not open for public viewing.
Days later, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission filed a complaint against Moore. His position as Chief Justice was suspended, and he was placed on trial. During his hearing in November 2003, Moore firmly defended his decision to place the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, stating, “Without God there can be no ethics.” On August 23, 2003, a unanimous panel of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed Judge Moore from the bench.
During the 2012 election, Moore regained his seat as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Should Dial’s constitutional amendment pass the House and go on to be approved by the people during the 2014 election, displays like Moore’s would be protected under state law.