FORT WORTH — State Rep. Dan Flynn hopes to ensure that any Texas teacher who wants to can display the Ten Commandments in a classroom.
Flynn, a Republican from the town of Van in East Texas, recently filed a bill that says school board trustees may not stop copies of the commandments from being posted in "prominent" locations in classrooms.
Calling it a "patriotic exercise," Flynn said the bill is geared to teach youths about history and principles.
"This is necessary to protect teachers who have the desire to establish that the country's historical background is based on Judeo-Christian traditions," he said. "This might be a reassuring step to the people that we are wanting to maintain and hold on to those historical findings of how our country was founded.
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"And anything that helps build the morals of our young people would be helpful," Flynn said. "For too long, we've forsaken what our Judeo-Christian heritage has been. Our rights do come from God, not from government."
It's not as simple as a legal and political debate, numerous experts are quick to point out.
Public displays of the commandments have sparked legal battles for years. The outcomes have been mixed.
"If the bill became law and if a court looked at that law and determined that its primary purpose was to promote religion ... a federal court probably would rule that it violates the First Amendment establishment clause," which prevents government from making laws respecting establishment of religion, said David Masci, a senior researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Public displays of the commandments have met different fates in the courtroom, with some lawsuits landing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justices ruled five years ago that a granite monument listing the commandments and erected on the Texas Capitol grounds isn't unconstitutional and doesn't mean that government officials are promoting religion. The justices said the display just acknowledges a religious document.
But a Kentucky case involving the display of the commandments on the walls of two county courthouses didn't fare as well. Justices said that county officials were trying to promote religion and that those displays had to be removed. In a case last year, a federal appeals court ruled that a Ten Commandments monument outside an Oklahoma courthouse endorses religion.
"All of these things are subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court," said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. "In recent years, the Supreme Court has not been tolerant of anything that smacks of required religious rituals."
The court itself comes up often as an example in the debate because the U.S. Supreme Court building bears images of the commandments.
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