The Legislature still has time to reverse its action and kill Senate Bill 2308, which would allow school districts to post the Ten Commandments if they want. If it becomes law it could involve a school district, the state or both in a lawsuit.
The bill was approved by the Senate and amended and passed, 76-16, by the House on Tuesday. Because of the amendment it goes back to the Senate. If senators don’t concur on the amended bill it will go to a conference committee.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, argues the legislation could help combat numerous social ills. She’s also said only an atheist would oppose posting the Ten Commandments. Not true.
There are good reasons people of faith disagree with the bill and posting of the Ten Commandments in schools. One is that the Supreme Court established a precedent in a 1980 decision when it ruled the Ten Commandments are “undeniably a sacred text,” tossing a Kentucky law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools. It rejected the law because of its religious intent.
A previous North Dakota law requiring schools to post the Ten Commandments was struck down by a federal judge in 1979. Murray Sagsveen, who as a North Dakota assistant attorney general defended that law in court, warns that Senate Bill 2308 likely would not stand up in court.
The North Dakota School Boards Association opposes the bill because it fears local school districts would become embroiled in lawsuits.
House legislators amended the bill in committee in an attempt to avoid lawsuits. The amendment requires displays to be accompanied by other historical documents to provide balance in an effort to prevent legal challenges. Legal experts note similar efforts in the past have failed in court.
The Tribune editorial board believes the bill isn’t necessary and has the potential if it becomes law to put a school district in a precarious situation. It’s also an effort by the Legislature to impose religious beliefs on everyone in a school district.
The Ten Commandments are the biblical principles of Christianity and Judaism. Some of the commandments are part of our legal code. It’s not just wrong, but illegal, to kill or steal. Others are religious in nature. Such as:
You shall have no other gods, you shall not make idols, don’t take the name of your god in vain and remember the Sabbath.
The remaining commandments tell us to honor our parents, not to commit adultery, not to bear false witness against neighbors and not to covet. Most would agree they are good guiding principles, but best taught at home and at church. Some schools might have ethics classes that touch on these principles.
If schools were to post the Ten Commandments, there’s no guarantee students would read them let alone study and discuss them. And what if members of another religion wanted to post the principles involving their faith?
The Tribune believes the reaction would unfortunately be negative.
The Senate should reverse itself on Senate Bill 2308 not just because it could open a can of legal problems, but because it’s an attempt to allow school districts to impose religious beliefs on students and staff. Sadly, posting the Ten Commandments won’t end our social ills.
Learning the principles of the commandments at home and church will have an impact. So will the classroom knowledge of our laws and legal system. We need to have faith in our educational system without religious interference.
It might not be popular to reject a bill involving the Ten Commandments, but it’s the right thing to do.