If your child is one of the lucky few to actually make it into a Texas classroom, after the mandatory birth certificate screening and DNA testing, she could be greeted by the Ten Commandments. Yes, if Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, has his way, independent public school districts in Texas would no longer be able to prohibit the posting of the Ten Commandments in a prominent location somewhere in the classroom, maybe tucked between the colorful “We Can Read” wall and the Stations of the Cross.
Flynn, an evangelical Christian rancher, is the author of House Bill 79, which would essentially amend the education code to allow teachers to post copies of the Ten Commandments at their discretion. (Unfortunately, these are just copies. The real Ten Commandments are stored in a giant government warehouse.) Not that there’s anything inherently wrong about exposing children to the Almighty Decalogue, especially once we get rid of this whole “separation of church and state” nonsense. Where else will they learn that if they worship false idols or covet their neighbor’s oxen, they’re going to spend eternity in hell? However, I think we can all agree that we need to add another commandment these days: Thou Shalt Not Sext. And if we’re going to start posting the Ten Commandments in public schools, then we should start papering church walls with the Bill of Rights.
When Flynn filed the legislation, after solo-descending Mount Sinai, he referred to it as a “patriotic exercise,” as American as saluting the flag or dressing up like Betsy Ross just because you feel like it. But displaying the Ten Commandments in schools is not so much “patriotic” as it is “unconstitutional.” Unless you live in Giles County, Va., where the local school board unanimously decided in January to redisplay the Ten Commandments in public schools after removing them in December. (Yes. That’s re-display. They had already been posted for a decade.) Clearly this idyllic southwest Virginia town, nestled in the Appalachians, does not feel the need to recognize something as trivial as the First Amendment or as inane as Supreme Court precedent (Stone v. Graham, 1980). Not surprisingly, the ACLU is threatening a lawsuit against the county. Wait until they find out about the new “How to Speak in Tongues” course for seniors.
In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that the granite monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol was constitutional (Van Orden v. Perry), while simultaneously ruling that it was unconstitutional to display the Ten Commandments at two rural courthouses (McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky). The key difference was context. Secular monuments such as the Pioneer Woman and memorials are also displayed on the Texas Capitol grounds, not just the Ten Commandments. Writing for the majority, Justice David Souter cited a 1980 Supreme Court decision overturning a Kentucky law that required a copy of the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom on their own because it constituted a state endorsement of religion (Stone v. Graham).
Lucky for Flynn, Justice Souter is gone, meaning he’s got a decent shot at righting this wrong (Flynn v. Heathens).
In a poll commissioned last year by the Texas Freedom Network on education, more than two-thirds of respondents agreed that “separation of church and state is a key principle of the Constitution.” Unfortunately Flynn is too busy playing Charlton Heston to notice.