- (Photo: ACLU of Florida)
A Tennessee school board has approved the placement of Ten Commandments displays in public schools, along with other historically significant documents.
At a meeting in late January, the Cumberland County Board of Education voted to allow Decalogue displays along with other notable documents, including the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Aarona VanWinkle, Director of Schools for Cumberland County, said in a statement that the displays would be more about historical heritage than religious doctrine. "The public schools are charged with teaching our history and heritage to students; we are not responsible for religious instruction – matters wisely left to families and religious organizations," said VanWinkle.
Over the past ten to fifteen years the debate over Ten Commandments displays in public facilities has been heated and often involved lawsuits and differing court decisions. In Tennessee, legislative efforts have existed for the past several years to legalize such displays in the context of them being part of overall sets of documents considered integral to American history.
In March of last year, the Tennessee House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that allow for Decalogue displays. After minimal debate, the measure passed with a vote of 93 yeas to zero nays. By April 2012, the General Assembly passed the measure.
According to the Crossville Chronicle, the bill allows local governments to display historic documents including the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Constitution, and others because they are "treasures that should be displayed proudly and resolutely in public buildings and on public grounds."
Church-state watchdog groups have been critical of the new law. Amanda Rolat, state legislative counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent a letter to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam protesting the legislation.
"Decalogue is not tantamount to the other documents in this bill, such as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. The idea that the Ten Commandments are part of the 'freedom and history' of Tennessee is simply untrue," wrote Rolat.
"The U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions make no mention of the Ten Commandments, and the laws of the state are secular, not religious. In turn, this legislative scheme is constitutionally suspect and a threat to true religious freedom."
Despite the letter, the bill would become law. In an interview with local media, parents expressed support for the displays, even if for different reasons. "I think it would be great. I think that would bring religion and everything back to the schools and maybe stop a lot of violence and things that goes on at the schools. A lot of families don't get to go to church," said Barbara Lynch to WATE 6 News.
"From a historical standpoint, absolutely, I think that's wonderful. I would love for her to be able to see that there. I don't want them to be teaching her religion and faith, because I think that's something that the family should do," said Janice Poole.
The Cumberland County Board of Education did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.