Ten Commandments bill passes state House

Tuesday, March 8th 2005, 6:31 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma House re-entered the debate over whether copies of the Ten Commandments should be posted in public buildings Tuesday when it passed legislation authorizing their display.

The House, which has passed similar bills in the past, approved the legislation as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether Ten Commandment displays on government property cross the line of separation between church and state.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where Ten Commandments bills have died in earlier legislatures.

The high court heard oral arguments last week in the court's first consideration of the issue since 1980, when justices ruled the Ten Commandments could not be displayed in public schools.

Several justices expressed support for a 6-foot granite monument on the grounds of the Texas state Capitol but were less certain about framed copies of the commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.

In Oklahoma, an 8-foot stone monument bearing the Ten Commandments was mounted on the Haskell County Courthouse lawn in November following unanimous approval from the Haskell County Commission a few weeks earlier.

The state House voted 96-0 for the measure that allows authorities to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings. The measure does not require that they be posted, said its author, Rep. Jim Newport, R-Ponca City.

Responding to a question, Newport said his measure does not address displays of text from religions such as Buddhism. He also said his bill does not describe which version of the Ten Commandments may be posted.

Similar legislation has been supported by current and former House members for at least the past six years.

In 2000, former Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, proposed a measure to require copies of the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public buildings. In 2002, former Rep. Forrest Claunch, R-Midwest City, filed legislation authorizing their display and "In God We Trust" in public buildings.

Monuments displaying the Ten Commandments are common in town squares, courthouses and other government-owned land around the country. Lawyers challenging them argue that they violate the First Amendment ban on any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

In Alabama, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his job a year ago after defying a federal order to remove a 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the state courthouse.

The measure is House Bill 2015.