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Texas Senate Passes Bill to Put the Ten Commandments in Every Classroom

4 minute read

Texas state senators voted on Thursday to advance a bill that 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 passed by a party line vote of 17 to 12, 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.

Two other bills, including one that would allot time for students and school staff to pray and read their Bibles, were also passed.

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.

Supporters say that these types of bills help enshrine “religious liberty.”

“Allowing the Ten Commandments and prayer back into our public schools is one step we can take to make sure that all Texans have the right to freely express their sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in a public statement. “Bringing the Ten Commandments and prayer back to our public schools will enable our students to become better Texans.”

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 passed the education committee on April 8, would allow school districts “to employ chaplains to perform the duties of school counselors,” meaning clergy members could take the roles of trained counselors.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has often ruled in favor of religious expression in cases about praying at school and providing tuition subsidies at private religious schools.

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