One of the big results from Alabama during this week’s election was the passage of Amendment 1, which would allow Ten Commandments monuments to be displayed “in schools and on other public property.” The amendment also made it illegal to use public funds to defend those monuments in the case of a lawsuit.
72% of voters approved the amendment.
The idea here was straightforward: It’s okay to put up a Christian monument, and if anyone sues over it, taxpayers won’t be on the hook for any legal expenses. Sounds like a win-win for Christian supremacy!
There’s a logical flaw there, however, and one Christian lawyer says it means the amendment will backfire.
Eric Johnston, president of the Southeast Law Institute in Birmingham, is right to point out that passing the amendment doesn’t actually make it legal to put those monuments on public grounds. A public school that puts up a Ten Commandments monument and excludes, say, a Satanic one is still violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Obviously, the Alabama Constitution doesn’t trump the U.S. one.
So what happens if someone sues? Taxpayers won’t be on the hook… but those schools may be.
“If they do it, and they get sued, and if they lose, under federal statutes and attorney fee rules, they have to pay the legal fees for whoever challenged it,” said Johnston. “That could be $200,000 to $400,000, and they are likely to lose going up through the court system.”
That means a school wanting to challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for its right to display the Ten Commandments would need a hefty legal fund at the ready to handle the expenses of challenging the 1980 Stone v. Graham ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found public display of the Ten Commandments in schools to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“That would be a risk, a lot of money at risk,” Johnston said. “Their lawyers will tell them, ‘Don’t do it.’”
Johnston said all this before the election, too. And he admits that the new Supreme Court may not uphold precedent, so that’s a point in Alabama’s favor. But the potential of a Supreme Court ruling in your favor should never be the basis for encouraging people to do something illegal.
We also shouldn’t forget the other reason this Amendment may have been on the ballot. Just like the “caravan” of immigrants that we were all supposed to worry about — until the midterms, at which point the whole thing magically disappeared — this Amendment could easily be seen as a ruse to get conservative Christians to the polls on Election Day. They’re not just voting for candidates! They’re voting for God! There’s a long political history of putting controversial social issues on the ballot for big elections just to make sure conservatives come to the polls en masse.
If that was the case, however, the consequences are still the same.
“I think they made a mistake,” he said.
Yes. Yes they did. The question now becomes which school district is dumb enough to fall for it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)