The meaning of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause has been subject to a long, drawn-out debate amongst constitutional scholars, religious leaders and judges in our federal court system, and likely will remain controversial for the foreseeable future. The latest wrinkle in this never-ending controversy is a case out of Virginia filed by a high school student and a parent, both with apparently nothing better to do than argue that a public display of the Ten Commandments on a school wall offends them because it allegedly violates the student’s First Amendment rights.
Narrows High School had dared to publicly display the Ten Commandments — apparently a long-standing practice, not just at this particular school, but at all schools in Giles County, Virginia. Some busybodies in the community, however, saw an opportunity for a court fight and placed calls to various litigious organizations, including the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which filed a suit in federal court back in September.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation argues that the mere public display of the Ten Commandments “impermissibly coerce[s] students to suppress their personal religious beliefs and adopt the School Board’s favored views.”
The lawsuit itself plows no new legal turf. The Ten Commandments and other public expressions of faith that are recognized by governmental entities, including prayer before city council meetings or high school football games, have been targets of atheists and like-minded organizations for decades. Just last year, for example, the perennial “grumpy old man” of the First Amendment, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, targeted school boards in my home state of Georgia for allowing graduation ceremonies to be held in local churches.
According to The Washington Times, following the filing of the lawsuit, Narrows High School replaced the Ten Commandments with the Declaration of Independence while the Giles County School Board worked on a solution that allowed the Judeo-Christian principles to continue hanging in public view. The remedy agreed upon was to place the Ten Commandments alongside “other historical documents, including a picture of Lady Justice, the text of the Star-Spangled Banner, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Mayflower Compact and the Magna Carta.”
As foolish as this lawsuit may be, it is equally ridiculous that it took this sort of action for the school board to publicly display the Declaration of Independence, one of the most important documents in American history. The Declaration is not a substitute for the Ten Commandments; nor is the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, for that matter.
The Ten Commandments, which have served as the basis for the laws of many nations, certainly have a place in our society. But the Constitution — the supreme law of our land — deserves public recognition in its own right, especially in our schools, and certainly when the principles embodied therein are daily under assault from governments at all levels. It should not take a court challenge to open the eyes of public school bureaucrats to this reality.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.