In 2006, the General Assembly passed the Foundation of American Law Act to allow public display of certain documents and descriptions in courthouses and judicial buildings — the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Ten Commandments, for example. State Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, the bill’s sponsor, this year added legislation to allow such displays in all public buildings. The House passed the bill last week; Senate approval is likely. I posed questions to Benton via email. Here are his responses:
Q. Our economy is in the tank and foreclosures abound. Why this issue now?
A. Why not now? This issue was brought to me by a constituent who had tried to have the display placed in the Capitol, and, because of the wording in the original bill, was not allowed to. This simply corrects that problem. I have voted for every bill that pertains to job growth, to stimulating the economy and trying to help people with foreclosures that’s been brought to the House floor for a vote.
Q. Some argue the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with U.S. civil law.
A. If I thought that way, I wouldn’t have sponsored the bill. The United States was and still is a Christian nation, contrary to the rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C. Most of the original colonies were founded by people seeking religious freedom or made some provision in their governing document that allowed for religious freedom. The charter of the colony of Georgia stated that it was to become a home for persecuted Protestants. Although Catholics were prohibited and Jews were discouraged, they later came and contributed greatly to the foundation of the state and nation. A lot of the ideas of these religious groups found their way in to the laws of the state and nation. One of those was the Ten Commandments.
Q. Do you give any credence to claims that such displays are a government endorsement of Christianity?
A. No. The Ten Commandments are not just a Christian idea. They are a commandment by God, both Christian and Jew, of a way that our lives should be led. The displays are not paid for by government. The government allows them to be placed. The government also allows other items to be placed in public buildings.
Q. What’s your view of the separation of church and state?
A. We’re allowed freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The First Amendment is pretty clear in that the government cannot force you to worship in a certain church or to believe one way or the other. There are no government-sponsored churches as there were in other countries when ours was founded. You had different groups coming to America looking for religious freedom and they wanted to make sure that it continued when the current government was started.
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