A national church-state watchdog group has urged the South Carolina State School Board to reject Henry Jordan's proposal on posting the Ten Commandments in public schools, charging the plan would be a violation of the First Amendment. The effort is scheduled for consideration when the board meets in Columbia on Wednesday, March 11.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that Jordan's plan to post the religious text raises serious constitutional concerns.
"Many people agree with the principles espoused by the Ten Commandments," said Lynn in a letter to board chairman J. Alex Stanton. "As a minister, I would be the first to suggest that the Ten Commandments are rules by which to live. However, I believe just as strongly that religious faith should not be manipulated by those on a religious/political crusade."
Lynn noted that not only does the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbid this kind of endorsement of religion, but the South Carolina State Constitution insists that no "preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship" (Article VI, Sec. 3).
Lynn also pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Stone v. Graham (1980), where the Court ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional.
"Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no...educational function," the Court said in its ruling. "If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the school children to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause."
Lynn urged the board to reject the dangerous proposal in order to preserve the rights of religious minorities and avoid the inevitable and costly lawsuits that would follow the passage of this proposal.
"If one religious doctrine were posted on the schoolhouse wall, other religions would seek similar and equal treatment for the posting of their religious texts," Lynn said. "South Carolina public schools would be required to reserve space for the hundreds of religious people who may seek room for their sectarian documents."
Lynn suggested that Jordan, a Religious Right activist best known for saying "Screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims and put that in the minutes" at a board meeting last May, is trying to exploit the religious text for political purposes.
Lynn insisted that church-state separation "protects religious diversity and equality by ensuring that government remains neutral on religious matters, neither favoring nor inhibiting religion. Posting a copy of one religion's sacred text cannot reasonably be construed as remaining neutral on religious matters.
"To insist that the state must recognize his religious beliefs by allowing the posting the Ten Commandments in public schools, Jordan is clearly asking your board to promote a specific faith through official state action. This would be an obvious violation of the First Amendment."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.