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New Texas Bill Would Mandate a 10 Commandments Display in Every Public School Classroom

Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If a new bill from Texas state Sen. Phil King becomes law, a poster-sized display of the 10 Commandments would need to be displayed “in a conspicuous place in each classroom” of the state’s public elementary and secondary schools.

King, a Republican, filed SB 1515, which includes a requirement as to the exact size of the posters, as well as the mandate that the posters use the “Thou shalt…” wording in each commandment. King is a member of the state Senate Education Committee, which will consider the bill this week.

Proponents of the separation of church and state say this bill oversteps in that not only does it require the public placement of Scripture, but it also allows schools to use taxpayer funds to purchase the posters.

Similar bills have failed in Texas before. But in 2005, current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott won a U.S. Supreme Court case (Van Orden v. Perry) regarding a 10 Commandments monument at the state capitol.

Texas Bill Requires ‘Legible’ Displays of 10 Commandments

According to King’s bill, each classroom display of the 10 Commandments must be “a durable poster or framed copy” of at least 16 x 20 inches, “in a size and typeface that is legible to a person with average vision from anywhere in the classroom.”

The proposal adds that public schools “must” accept donations of 10 Commandments displays, “must” offer any excess donations to other schools, and may use “public funds” to meet the requirement. If passed, the legislation would go into effect September 1 for the 2023-2024 school year.

In an author’s statement, King noted that his bill became “legally feasible” thanks to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. That ruling overturned the “Lemon test under the Establishment Clause,” King wrote, “and instead provided a test of whether a governmental display of religious content comports with America’s history and tradition.” Stone v. Graham (1980) had maintained that “the Lemon test prohibited public schools’ display” of the 10 Commandments, but now that no longer applies.

Religious liberty was a bedrock of America’s founding,” added King. “For the last several decades, expression of that liberty has been restricted. However, thanks to this recent SCOTUS opinion, those restrictions have been lifted.” His bill, King contended, “reminds students all across Texas of the importance of a fundamental foundation of American and Texas law—the Ten Commandments.”

Opponents: Bill Would Unconstitutionally ‘Impose Religion’

According to NBC News reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, this is one of two current Texas GOP bills that will “chip away at the separation of church & state and promote Christianity in public schools.” Regarding the commandment against coveting “thy neighbor’s wife,” Hixenbaugh tweeted: “Yes, please explain that line to a 6-year-old.”

The other bill he references, SB 763, would permit chaplains to act as school counselors, and those chaplains would not have to be certified by the state board of education.