, 2000

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JUNE 17, 1999  11:00 AM
American Civil Liberties Union
ACLU of Alabama Condemns Lawmaker's Attempt to Pass "Ten Commandments Amendment"
MONTGOMERY, AL - June 17 - At a news conference this morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama criticized a last-minute attempt to add a Ten Commandments and school-prayer rider into an unrelated bill dealing with youth crime.

The riders were tacked on at the last minute by U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt, who represents DeKalb and Etowah Counties. In an unusual move, debate on the measure was limited to 20 minutes. A vote on the bill is expected today.

Rep. Aderholt's bill declares that "the power to display the Ten Commandments on or within property owned or administered by states or political subdivisions of states" is presumptively constitutional. The amendment also declares that religious expression may take place on any public property. Finally, it purports to strip the federal courts of power to decide church-state issues.

"The Aderholt rider as written means that teachers can force schoolchildren to pray over the intercom even if the prayer being offered is contrary to their own religious beliefs and their parents'. This is coercion, not protection for religious expression. Students and teachers already have the right to pray in school on their own initiative," said Martin McCaffery, President of the ACLU of Alabama.

McCaffery said the bill would undo decades of constitutional law in both the school-prayer and public-display arenas. "It has been the law for decades that the state cannot endorse religion," he said. "The founders intended, and the Supreme Court has held, that the duty of the state toward religion is strict neutrality."

The ACLU of Alabama has been involved in two lawsuits over Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore's practice of offering Christian prayers when jurors are required by subpoena to be present in the courtroom and his display of the Ten Commandments directly behind his judicial bench next to the official state seal.

Rep. Aderholt has been a vocal supporter of Judge Moore, last year introducing a resolution declaring that the Ten Commandments could be constitutionally displayed in public buildings. Resolutions are non-binding, unlike the amendment to a binding bill Aderholt has now offered.

The ACLU of Alabama urged citizens who are concerned about the blatant violation of the Constitution to call their senators and representatives and urge them to defeat the Aderholt amendment to HR 1501, the juvenile justice bill.

"We are fortunate to have a court system that can tell the difference between state-sponsored religion and individual expression and that respects that difference," McCaffery said. "This bill mistakes one for the other."


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