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Article ID: 2403

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Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 7,518

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Ten Commandments: The House Debate

Author: Wren
Posted: June 21st. 1999
Times Viewed: 17,139

After Midnight...

The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. Pursuant to House Resolution 209, the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Aderholt) and a Member opposed each will control 10 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Aderholt).

Mr. ADERHOLT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, the recent shootings in Littleton, Colorado, provide an unfortunate picture of the terror infested in our schools today, children killing children in the halls of our schools, children who do not understand the basic principles of humankind.

Today, I offer the Ten Commandments Defense Act amendment. This amendment would protect America's religious freedom by allowing States, and I repeat that, allowing States to make the decision whether or not to display the Ten Commandments on or within publicly owned property.

As Members of Congress, we have the privilege and the weighty responsibility to make laws for our country which honor the individual, laws that foster value and establish basic guidelines of right and wrong; do not steal, do not lie, do not kill. We are fortunate to live in a country in which the very First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion.

This does not mean freedom from religion. Rather, it means that we are free to live as we choose; we are free from the tyranny which stifles our expression of faith.

The founders wisely realized that in a free society it is imperative that individuals practice forbearance, respect and temperance. These are the very values taught by all the world's major religions and the Ten Commandments and our Constitution underscore these values.

While this amendment does not endorse any one religion, it states that a religious symbol which has deep rooted significance for our Nation and its history should not be excluded from the public square.

As I look behind me in the House Chamber here tonight, I see other religious symbols. In the balcony there are reliefs of great lawgivers throughout history. Blackstone, Jefferson, Hammarabbi, and the list goes on. However, on the main door to this Chamber is the relief of Moses, the most prominent place in the Chamber. He looks directly at the Speaker.

Above the dais, are the words, in God we trust and each day in this Chamber we open with prayer by our Chaplain. Religious expression is not absent from this public building, and it is not fair to say that public buildings in each of the States are precluded from recognizing this heritage.

The Ten Commandments represent the very cornerstone of Western civilization and the basis of our legal system here in America. To exclude a display of the Ten Commandments and suggest that it is in some way an establishment of religion is not consistent with our Nation's heritage. This Nation was founded on religious traditions and they are integral parts of the fabric of American culture, political and societal life.

This amendment today is not just about the display of the Ten Commandments. It is also about our Nation's children and the role that values play in our national life. Our Nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and by our Founding Fathers.

I ask my colleagues to join me in giving the States the power to decide whether to display the Ten Commandments, which are the very backbone of the values and the nature of our society.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim the time in opposition to the amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) is recognized for 10 minutes.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 1 1/2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, our rich tradition of religious diversity is a cornerstone of American constitutional rights. Rather than trying to honor and promote that tradition of religious diversity by focusing on the Ten Commandments, this amendment seeks to elevate one particular religion over all others. This singling out of one religion is contrary to the American ideal of religious tolerance and is blatantly unconstitutional.

By contrast, the Chamber of the Supreme Court, one of the best traditions of our religious diversity, the Ten Commandments, depicts Hammurabi, Moses, Confucius, Augustus, Mohammed and others as those who have given the philosophy and law, and does so in a manner that honors the diversity of our religious experience.

The amendment before us today is unconstitutional because it is inconsistent with the first amendment. The case law clearly establishes that placing religious articles such as the Ten Commandments outside the context of other secular symbols, in a government establishment is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

In Stone v. Graham, in 1980, the Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. Another case, in 1994, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found a courtroom display of the Ten Commandments to be unconstitutional.

For more than 200 years, we have survived as a government of laws and court interpretations of those laws, and now is not the time on a juvenile justice bill to be debating complex constitutional principles that have nothing to do with juvenile crime.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. ADERHOLT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Hayes).

(Mr. HAYES asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Mr. HAYES. Mr. Chairman, we have awoken to a day in which hatred is overlooked, violence is glorified, and random acts of indecency are tolerated. I fear that this has led to a generation that no longer understands the difference between right and wrong.

This segment of our youth population has abandoned the notion that human life should be treasured. It saddens me to conclude that many of these youth are, by their own account, morally destitute. Regrettably, Americans have witnessed a series of heart-wrenching incidents of youth violence, casting light on the magnitude of our Nation's problem.

I do not support the Aderholt amendment because I want to impose religion in our schools. I strongly support this amendment because our States should have the opportunity to expose their students to a timeless code which, I believe, could instill ageless values.

I have given much thought to why some of my colleagues are so resistant to the proposal of the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Aderholt), and, frankly, I remain incredulous. Do some truly believe that teaching our children that lying, stealing, and killing is wrong? Listening to some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, one might conclude that the amendment of the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Aderholt) would tear at the fabric of our Nation.

It is amazing to me that many of these same Members will, no doubt, vehemently defend the right of commercial vendors who wish to distribute pornography, filth, and violence to our children, and yet rail against States that wish to allow their school districts the right to post the 10 basic tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 1/2 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Nadler).

Mr. NADLER. Mr. Chairman, this amendment again attempts to say that the Congress finds what is constitutional and what is not. It finds to be constitutional what the courts of the land, which have the power and the duty under our system of finding what is constitutional, this says what they have found to be unconstitutional is constitutional. It is usurpation of the power of the courts, number one.

Number two, it says the courts, constituted and ordained and established by the Congress, shall exercise the judicial power in a manner consistent with the foregoing declarations. God forbid, the courts should exercise the judicial power in accordance with the courts' understanding of the Constitution, first of all; and, second of all, with the laws, not with opinions expressed and findings of Congress.

Third, public buildings shall have the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments say a number of things. I think most people who talk about them do not really know what they say. It says, `I am the Lord, thy God, who has brought thee forth from Egypt. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me, for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers on the children even unto the third and fourth generations.'

Do most religious groups in this country really believe that God visits the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations? I think not.

`Thou shalt not work on Saturday.' Most Christian denominations have changed it to Sunday. Do we want to say they are wrong, with the power of the State behind them, the Christian groups are wrong, they ought to be changed back to Saturday? That is what the Ten Commandments seems to say.

I am not expressing a view on religion, but the States should not take a position on that by putting that in the courtroom or the schools.

Let me ask a different question: Whose Ten Commandments? Which version? The Catholic version? The Protestant version, or the Jewish version? They are different, you know. The Hebrew words are the same, but the translations are very different, reflecting different religious traditions and different religious beliefs.

Are our public buildings to be Catholic because the local Catholic majority votes that the Catholic version found in the Douay Bible should be in the public buildings? Or perhaps they should be Protestant because the local majority decides that the Saint James version of the Ten Commandments, which is very different from the Catholic version. Or maybe the Jews have a majority in the local district, and they decide the Messianic version should be in the public buildings.

It was precisely to avoid divisive questions like this that the first amendment commands no establishment of religion; and that is what this ignorant amendment would overturn. I urge its defeat.

Mr. ADERHOLT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr).

Mr. BARR of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, this is a copy of the Ten Commandments that hangs on the wall of the office of the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr), Representative from the Seventh District. This has been hanging on our wall for close to 5 years now, since I was sworn in as a Member of this Chamber.

Not one time have we had somebody that has walked into that office, seen these Commandments, fallen down on their knees and say, I must pay homage to whatever religion the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr) is. There is nothing in these Ten Commandments that reaches out and grabs somebody and forces them to abide by any particular religious belief.

I challenge anybody on the other side to tell me what in these Ten Commandments they find so objectionable. Do they find so objectionable that it says, Thou shalt not kill? Would they object to having those words, and no more, inscribed on the halls of our schools so that our children are reminded that thou shalt not kill? I dare say no.

It mystifies me what they find so objectionable in the Ten Commandments. They say, oh, this is not the time, Mr. Chairman, this is not the time in this bill about youth violence. I challenge them, if this is not the time, what in God's name is the time? When in God's name, Mr. Chairman, is it time; when we have children killing children in our schools, killing teachers in our schools is the time?

As was spoken eloquently in testimony before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime on May 27, 1999, in a poem penned by one of the parents of the victims of two of the Columbine High School shootings victims, Darrell Scott, he sent a poem which now hangs on our wall next to the Ten Commandments. He says in closing, `You fail to understand that God is what we need!' We do need God. I urge the adoption of this amendment.

In the past, America had one room school houses where moral teaching and strong discipline were a part of each day's lesson. At the same time, we had very few gun control laws on the books. In those days, violence in schools was largely limited to playground scuffles.

Today, we have numerous gun control laws. We also have schools where students are forbidden to pray in class or refer to the Lord, where Bible stories cannot be read, and where teachers cannot discipline students. At the same time, we are forced to fight a rising tide of juvenile violence that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago. Coincidence? Not likely.

One of the most egregious examples of the disconnect between common sense and government is the policy many governments have been forced to adopt, banning public display of the Ten Commandments.

Mr. Chairman, some on the other side of the aisle keep saying that Republicans are working on behalf of the NRA. Their irrational argument against something as simple and non-sectarian as displaying the Ten Commandments proves that many in the Democrat party have been bought and paid for by the trial lawyers. And, those lawyers are getting what they paid for judging from the lengths some are willing to go to in order to keep moral teaching out of our schools.

Frankly, I'll take protecting the rights of law abiding citizens over working to protect the views of special interests any day. What kind of society allows its students to make videos about violence, but won't allow teachers to put a poster on a wall with the words `Thou shalt not kill' written on it? Trial lawyers and intimidating federal bureaucrats have dictated school policies for too long. Enough is enough.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Edwards).

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, after hearing the last statement on the floor, I am reminded of a statement made by the 18th Century American Baptist preacher, John Leland, who fought mightily for a religious liberty amendment in the Bill of Rights when he said, `Experience has informed us that the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did. Persecution, like the lion, tears the saints to death, but leaves Christianity pure. State establishment of religion, like a bear, hugs the saints, but corrupts Christianity.'

Mr. Chairman, what is wrong with this picture? Our Founding Fathers decided that the issue of religious liberty, the concept of separating church and State in America was so important it should be the first 16 words of the Bill of Rights.

But here we are, after midnight, more staff people on this floor than Members of this House, debating with the gracious allowance of 10 minutes on each side, 10 minutes to debate an issue that is fundamental to the point. It is the very beginning of the foundation of our Bill of Rights and the first amendment.

That is wrong.

Now, I would suggest it is absolutely disingenuous to suggest that tonight is a debate about the goodness of the Ten Commandments. I am a Christian, I would say to my colleague, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr). I am not going to debate my level of Christianity versus anyone else's. It is not my place in my Christianity to judge anyone else. But that is not what this debate is all about. This debate is whether government has the right to use its resources to push its religious views on other free citizens of this land.

And do not listen to my words tonight. Listen to what the Supreme Court said. The Supreme Court has clearly stated in its cases that the preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on the schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature.

This debate does disservice to the Bill of Rights and the principle of religious liberty.

Mr. ADERHOLT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Indiana (Mr. Souder).

Mr. SOUDER. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Aderholt) for yielding me this time and for his leadership.

This debate is about what is going on with our kids in America, and that is why it is part of the juvenile justice bill. And there are millions and millions, probably the overwhelming majority of Americans, who believe part of this is the lack of moral teaching and the moral influence which we have sucked out of our system in this country.

I am tired of hearing tonight on the floor about how neutral our Founding Fathers were and this and that. The fact is we have lawgivers all around this body, and all their heads are sideways on this side, and all their heads are sideways on that side, except for one. Moses is looking straight down on the Speaker of the House. And up above the Speaker of the House it says `In God We Trust.' And it is Moses looking here, not all these on this side and not all these on this side. They are part of a tradition, but this is the central tradition. We have denied and sucked out the central tradition.

We now have diversity, and in the schools we allow posting of posters from the Hindu background, from the Mexican background, prayers from Indian faiths, but not the Ten Commandments.

In Congress, Members who are interested can get and have the different plaques, the stone plates, and I hope we do not drop these because I do not want to bring any bolts of lightning down on us, of the Ten Commandments. We can put these in our offices. We can have Moses staring down here, but these things apparently are dangerous for our children.

We would not want them to have other gods. We would not want them to learn about killing and stealing. Apparently, this is more dangerous than whether they can wear Marilyn Manson T-shirts, whether they can have posters in the schools advertising rock concerts. Anything goes pretty much in the schools as long as it is not the Ten Commandments.

That is what we are concerned about, is the stripping of the religious freedom for the central part of our culture, not trying to deprive other people of their rights. I am fine with posting different versions of the Ten Commandments, if that is what it takes. We are not trying to restrict other people's rights. We are trying to bring the rights back for the central faith of this country.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Waters).

Ms. WATERS. Mr. Chairman, I am a protestant, a Baptist in particular. I am not of the Jewish faith, I do not practice Judaism, I do not practice the Muslim faith, I do not know anything about Buddhists. I respect each of those. But when I send my child to school, I expect my child not to be influenced by anybody else's religion. I expect to teach my child in my house what I would like to teach him about religion. While I respect everybody's religion, I do not want it imposed on my child where I send him to school.

Now, my colleague thinks it is all right to have the Ten Commandments. I do not know what is synonymous to that in any of these other religions. I know one thing. I do not want anybody else's religion displayed by way of their commandments in the classroom where my child is, maybe teaching him something different than what I would teach him.

As far as I am concerned, I teach my child that God is God. It may be Jehovah, it may be Allah, it may be something in other religions. But that is the point. The point is this is a Nation where we are allowed to practice whatever we would like to practice. It is central and basic to our democracy. It is installed in our Constitution. It is sacrosanct. It is the most precious thing that we can have, freedom of religion.

When the gentleman talks about the Ten Commandments, he is talking about something that is central to Christianity. Why in God's name would he want that to be the symbol of everybody's religion? The fact of the matter is, he would not like it if somebody else imposed something else on his child. So he has got to see it in a more comprehensive way.

It is unconstitutional. It flies in the face of the Constitution of this land and it should not be done.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 1/2 minutes to the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee).

(Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas asked and was given permission to revise and extend her remarks.)

Ms. JACKSON-LEE. The Constitution requires that we establish no religion. The gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr) has asked, `When in God's name.' Well, the gentleman has the Ten Commandments, and I would hope that wherever the gentleman from Georgia goes he offers to those who will hear him his belief in the Ten Commandments. And that is what we need to give our children in America, the opportunity for them to choose their beliefs.

For this to be allowed, if the gentleman is attaching it to the juvenile crime bill, he must be saying, put the Ten Commandments in our schools. Well, in our schools, as evidenced by the statement of the Secretary of Education, that I wish the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Tancredo) would have offered, we allow our students to express themselves, no matter what their religion is. They can gather voluntarily and pray to their respective gods. If they want to acknowledge the Ten Commandments, do so, and I support them in doing so. I happen to believe in the Seventh Day Sabbath, but if someone does not agree with that, then they have every right to not be forced to do so.

I would say, Mr. Chairman, that the Constitution is violated by that amendment, and I would ask it be defeated.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Chairman, Amendment I of the Constitution says the Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Obviously, picking one religious symbol establishes that religion.

Mr. Chairman, to the extent this measure may be constitutional, if it is constitutional, we do not need it. If it is not constitutional, it does not make any difference whether we pass it or not. We are wasting time. We ought to get back to juvenile crime. We should not be taking up this measure at 12:30 at night. I would hope we would get back to the serious consideration of juvenile crime.

Mr. NADLER. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent, in view of the importance of this subject, that the time for debate be extended by 1 hour.

The CHAIRMAN pro tempore (Mr. LaHood). Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New York?

Mr. ADERHOLT. Mr. Chairman, I object.

The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. Objection is heard.

The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Aderholt).

The question was taken; and the Chairman pro tempore announced that the ayes appeared to have it.

Mr. SCOTT. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. Pursuant to House Resolution 209, furthers proceedings on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Aderholt) will be postponed.

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