A new bill proposed in the Mississippi State House would give the Ten Commandments a shocking level of prominence in public school classrooms. House Bill 1100, introduced last week by State Rep. Credell Calhoun (D) stipulates that the Ten Commandments must be displayed in all classrooms, and further requires that all teachers must recite the Commandments every morning before classes begin.
The separation of Church and State is considered sacrosanct and guaranteed by the US Constitution, and this bill flies directly in the face of the First Amendment’s promise to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The battle to keep religion from seeping into classrooms has been an ongoing battle for decades. President Dwight Eisenhower added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and numerous legal battles have been fought since that time to restore the Pledge to its original form, which made no mention of God.
None has succeeded.
Not surprisingly, religious factions have fought equally as hard to secure a wider space for their religion in the classroom. There have been efforts to allow proselytizing in public schools, to keep studies of Darwinian evolution out of textbooks, and to protect students’ rights to pray while on school grounds. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that no school-sponsored prayer or religious indoctrination will be allowed on public school grounds, however, violations happen regularly.
These efforts have historically originated with the more religious members and groups in the Republican Party, so it is surprising to see that it was a Democrat who wrote the Ten Commandments bill. The Democratic Party has been outspoken on matters of religious tolerance and freedom and no factor determines party affiliation more than religion (or lack thereof), according to a Pew Research Center survey. But perhaps in this era of political dislocation, all bets are off?
Clearly, this Mississippi bill would be a flagrant example of religious indoctrination, and it is, therefore, unlikely to become law. Even so, the fact that it’s being legitimately proposed in a chamber of state government shows the persistent efforts of religious factions to undermine the First Amendment.