Alabama is on the verge of amending its constitution to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in all government buildings, including public schools.
Senate Bill 181 made it through the State Senate (23-3) and the State House (66-19) and it’ll be on the November ballot.
There are problems with the bill, though. As we noted earlier, it doesn’t necessarily violate the law because it calls for the Decalogue to be part of a larger display of historical materials. It also calls for private funds to pay for these monuments. But there’s a good chance some of those displays will downplay everything except the Commandments and the lawsuits will inevitably follow. Keep in mind that the bill singles out the Ten Commandments for display, which could be taken as an endorsement of Christianity.
That’s why it’s interesting that the bill specifically says taxpayer funds can’t be used to defend the Ten Commandments monuments in case there’s a lawsuit. They don’t specify who would pay in those situations… which seems like a rather important question left unanswered. If there is a lawsuit, it doesn’t matter if a Christian legal group defends the state for free. When they lose, taxpayers will still be on the hook for the other side’s legal fees.
There’s absolutely no reason to support this amendment. What it calls for is already legal, and what legislators really want is a way to promote Christianity (which isn’t legal).
This controversy was at the center of a debate for a Republican gubernatorial primary debate on Thursday. You can watch it around the 5:14 mark of the video below:
What’s not surprising is that Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and evangelist Scott Dawson support the amendment completely. (Gov. Kay Ivey wasn’t at the debate.)
What is surprising is that State Sen. Bill Hightower criticized the bill because it had “no teeth” and couldn’t be defended in the case of a lawsuit.
“I am much more interested in the Ten Commandments being written on someone’s heart, not on a wall,” Hightower said. “That’s where the emphasis needs to be, frankly.”
He added, “They are the greatest groups of laws that have changed the course of history of mankind for a long time. There is no doubt on their impact to the world. But this law? I don’t believe it will be a big issue for us. We can’t defend it.”
(Those quotations aren’t verbatim from the actual debate, but the gist is the same.)
Hightower’s answer is the responsible path for Alabama. It’s also a dangerous thing to say if you’re trying to get elected by the party that supported disgraced judge Roy Moore for U.S. Senate.
Side note: Hightower said he “voted on” the bill… but actually, he wasn’t present for the vote and is officially listed as a “Pass.”
Still, it didn’t take long for conservatives to lash out against him for the debate response:
“Bill Hightower showed a lack of courage, leadership and conviction and should not be our next governor,” Dean Young said in a YouTube video on Friday.
Young is chairman of the Ten Commandments political action committee and served as campaign strategist for former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Young blasted Hightower for “a less than enthusiastic” response on a question about a proposed state constitutional amendment allowing the display of the biblical laws on public property.
Hightower has been pretty solid on this. While he is a Christian, he doesn’t want to campaign on the basis of his faith:
“People have asked me to put a fish on my brochure and ‘Christian’ on my brochure,” said Hightower, referring to campaign literature. “I am very much Christian and want to serve God in everything I do. But I don’t want to use that as a tool for my campaign. I think the people of Alabama want to know that their governor is a person of faith and a Christian. But I never wanted to use that as part of my marketing campaign.”
That’s a great stance to take if you’re a conservative Christian. It’s too bad he’s running in Alabama where it could cost him the primary election.
(Portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)