“I’d like to see the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and school rooms,” Dial said. “If it keeps one person from going berserk or killing folks then it’s worth the effort.”
This marks the seventh time Dial has introduced the bill and 10 years since his first attempt. But the “whole climate” in Montgomery changed with the last election, Dial said. This time the bill, which is currently in committee, will pass, he says.
“On a scale of one to 10, I’m about a 12 more confident,” Dial said in a phone interview while he drove back from Montgomery. He noted that he was both driving the speed limit and talking on Bluetooth during the interview.
If the bill does pass this time, Dial can expect its constitutionality to be challenged in court.
The bill, officially Senate Bill 37, is already being eyed by the Alabama branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Allison Neal, legal director with the ACLU. The ACLU regularly monitors bills in the legislature that affect constitutional issues, she said.
“Introducing an amendment like this kind of flies in the face of a recent court ruling from our circuit,” Neal said.
Neal was alluding to the ruling that Roy Moore, former state Supreme Court judge, unconstitutionally endorsed a religion when he placed a 2.6 ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of Alabama’s state judicial building in 2001.
Dial’s proposal wouldn’t force schools or public buildings to display the Ten Commandments, only give administrators the option to display the Ten Commandments. It has no correlation to what Moore did, Dial said.
But enacting this proposal would give the impression that the government endorses a particular religion and encourages following its guidelines, said Barry Lynn, an attorney with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“They are believed to come from God, how that could not be seen as promotion of religion is literally beyond any rational belief,” Lynn said, who’s also a minister with the United Church of Christ.
But this bill might not be as clear-cut violation of the federal constitution as Lynn and Neal make it out to be, said John Eidsmoe, a member of the Foundation for Moral Law’s legal team. A number of different religions accept the Ten Commandments, he said.
Beyond that, Eidsmoe said, courts have cited it in opinions and laws are based on its guidelines.
“I think you’d have a hard time saying the Ten Commandments are distinctly religious,” Eidsmoe said. “They’re an expression of the basic precepts that just about every society has been built upon.”
Dial grew up with the Ten Commandments freely displayed and discussed in school, he said. He saw them then as he does now: as a constant reminder, a flickering caution light as to how one should act.
Today Dial has a framed copy of the commandments waiting to go up in his Montgomery office. He’s been busy with the start of the legislative session and hasn’t had a chance to put it up. He will soon though, Dial said. And if the bill passes, he and the bill’s other five sponsors will provide free laminated copies of the commandments to schools wishing to display them.
“Whether you’re Baptist or Christian or Muslim or anything else the Ten Commandments are rules we ought to live by,” Dial said. “If we did we’d have a much better world.”
But as well-intentioned as Dial’s efforts may be, displaying the Ten Commandments on public property is a clear violation of the establishment clause of the United States constitution, said Bill Nigut, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“If we start taking down that wall between church and state, we’re violating one of the most basic principles of the constitution,” Nigut said. “(We’d be) turning our backs on the reason the early settlers came to this country in the first place: to avoid having their religion dictated to them.”