On Tuesday, The House Committee on Public Education discussed a bill that would require all public classrooms in the state to display a copy of the Ten Commandments. The bill, which already passed the Senate, sparked heated debate.
SB 1515 has raised concerns among opponents, who worry that it could infringe on religious expression rights and exclude other religions. Meanwhile, supporters argue that the Ten Commandments played a significant role in American history and inspired many of the country’s founding documents.
Rep. Candy Noble, who authored an identical bill in the House, HB 3448, said the legislation would “bring back the historic tradition of recognizing America’s religious heritage.” However, Democratic members in the House Public Education committee raised concerns about the role the state would have with children and religion, as reported by Austin American-Statesman.
Rep. James Talarico, a Christian Democrat from Austin, called the bill “un-American” and “un-Christian,” and questioned the state’s role in promoting religious education.
“Every time, on this committee, we try to teach basic sex education, but we can’t because we’re told that’s the parents’ role,” Talarico said. “Now, you’re putting literal commandments — religious commandments — in our classrooms, and we’re told that’s the state’s role.”
According to Steven Collis, a University of Texas law professor and director of the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center and of its Law and Religion Clinic, the legal implications of the bill are complex.
“Going forward, courts have to analyze this according to historical practices and understandings,” Collis told Austin American-Statesman. “I think parties are going to have to litigate this out and figure out what are going to be the limits of the Establishment Clause.”
The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from making a law establishing a national religion.
The bill was left pending in the committee Tuesday night.