Science versus religion

Ten Commandments bill wins preliminary approval

The Associated Press, 2/8/02

Update 2015: nothing ever came of this.

RICHMOND A closely divided House of Delegates advanced legislation Thursday requiring the State Board of Education to write guidelines for posting the Ten Commandments and three other "historical texts" in public schools.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter's bill won preliminary approval on a 53-44 vote. A final House vote is set for Friday The bill originally applied only to the Ten Commandments. After critics raised questions about constitutionality, Lingamfelter had the bill amended in committee to add the nonreligious documents: the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and portions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of Virginia.

"This is about values transcendent values," Lingamfelter said. He noted that posting the documents would be a local option, and he read a letter from the state attorney general's office saying the measure did not appear to violate the church-state separation requirement of the U.S. Constitution.

Democratic Delegate Dwight C. Jones, a Richmond minister, was not convinced. "It's very clear this is a bill that is about religion," he said. Opponents of the bill also argued that the wording of the Ten Commandments varies slightly from one faith to the next, and it would be inappropriate for state officials to choose one version over the others or develop a homogenized version.

In an impassioned speech, Delegate Albert Pollard urged his colleagues to reject the bill. "Here we are taking a sacred document and we're putting it next to worthy but secular documents and, in my mind, trivializing it," said Pollard, D-Lancaster. "In my mind, they are not worthy of being place next to the word of God...Mr. Speaker, as a Christian I find thi offensive."

But Delegate Robert MarshaL, R-Prince William, said the commandments outline widely accepte values. "It's curious to me how a precep against stealing would harm a child except maybe one who wants to steal," he said. "These are rules that govern human behavior for our benefit."

Gov. Mark Warner has not taken a position on the bill, spokeswoman Ellen Quails said.