Abill in the Texas legislature would require public schools to display the Ten Commandments in each classroom.
Texas and other states have made numerous previous attempts to enshrine the Ten Commandments in schools, but recent rulings from the conservative Supreme Court indicate that their efforts could be closer to fruition.
House bill, S.B. 1515, specifies that a poster or framed copy of the Ten Commandments, at least 16 inches by 20 inches, should be visible “conspicuously” in every classroom. The bill, which is set to be discussed in the Senate this week, also requires that public schools accept any donations of such Ten Commandment posters and if the school has extra copies, they must donate them to other schools rather than discarding them.
The bill’s critics argue that the bill would chip away at the separation of church and state and that it has no place in the classroom. “Every K-12 public classroom in the state of Texas would be required to display these words: ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant.’ Yes, please explain that line to a 6-year-old,” NBC reporter Mike Hixebaugh tweeted.
In 1980, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required the Ten Commandments to be posted in classrooms in Kentucky, ruling that it violated the Lemon test, the former legal precedent dictating religious freedom of expression. It was the first of many similar legal initiatives that the court blocked.
For decades, the Lemon test—derived from a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1971—was used to evaluate if a law or government activity violated first amendment freedom of religion.
The three-pronged test was overturned in a Supreme Court ruling last year and replaced by a legal examination which asks whether religious displays in governmental settings are in accordance with American history and tradition. The Texas bill’s sponsors argue that the bill has legal standing under the new test.
“They’re actually a foundation for our laws in our society,” Mary Elizabeth Castle of Texas Values, a Christian group that advocates for more biblical influence in curriculum, told NBC News Channel 4 about the Ten Commandments. “It’s very good that we’re having these things posted in our public school classrooms.”
Over the years, some have contended that the Ten Commandments are rooted in American tradition, even going so far as to call them “fundamental to the western legal tradition.” Some scholars counter that religious parallels can be drawn from many different traditions, texts and religions, rather than placing the Ten Commandments above all others.
Another Texas bill, which is also set to be discussed this week in the Senate, would allow school districts “to employ chaplains to perform the duties of school counselors,” meaning clergy members could take the roles of trained counselors.