Critics said the bill would bog the state down in legal battles — and would violate the rights of non-religious people.
"I believe in the Ten Commandments," said Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston. "But that doesn't give me the right to impose my beliefs on someone else."
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. DuWayne Bridges, R-Valley, says that "the right of a public school and public body to display the Ten Commandments ... shall not be infringed." If passed by the Senate, the amendment would go to voters statewide for approval.
The amendment prohibits the state from spending any public money to defend the Ten Commandments policy from a lawsuit.
Alabama lawmakers have proposed at least nine similar bills in the current four-year term. The commandments issue has been a perennial issue in Alabama politics since the early 1990s, when Roy Moore, now Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, fought a legal battle to post the commandments in an Etowah County courtroom.
The bill by Bridges sparked a wide-ranging, two-hour debate on the House floor Thursday, with representatives discussing everything from the definition of adultery to the chronological age of Jesus to baseball scores.
Bridges said posting of the commandments could prevent violence in schools. He said the bill would be worth it if one act of violence were averted.
"If it only saved one school from a shooting because it's posted there, or from killing their father and mother," he said. "That happens every day."
Other supporters argued that social ills, such as drug use, Facebook bullying and prison overcrowding, are due to society straying from God.
"We have prisons that we can't build enough," said Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla. "That's because we keep trying to pass our own laws."
Opponents of the bill noted that the issue had been before the courts numerous times, and had always been struck down. Some said the placement of the commandments in a courtroom would give non-religious people the impression that the state's courts aren't fair.
"There may be an atheist coming to trial," Boyd said. "That person has the right not to be subjected to my beliefs."
Boyd said many of the lawmakers secretly agreed with her, but didn't have the courage to say so in an election year.
For some of the bill's critics, opposition took a theological turn. Rep. George Bandy, D-Opelika, argued that Christians depend not on religious law, but on Jesus, for their salvation.
"The Ten Commandments really represents another religion: Judaism," Bandy said.
Bandy offered an amendment that would allow public officials to post John 3:16 in addition to the commandments "to prepare those that read it to be able to keep it."
Bridges said the proposal wouldn't fit in with the rest of his bill. House members voted to table the amendment.
The House also rejected an amendment by Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, that would have allowed state agencies to post Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech alongside the commandments.
Holmes engaged Bridges in a rambling debate, quizzing him on whether the commandments were written before or after the parting of the Red Sea; whether "adultery" refers to specifically sleeping with a married woman or any type of sexual misconduct; whether Jesus is now 2014 years old; and whether Bull Connor, the Birmingham police commissioner who unleashed attack dogs on civil rights protesters in the 1960s, was in heaven or hell.
"Who wrote the Ten Commandments?" Holmes asked.
"Moses wrote them," Bridges replied. "God wrote it and Moses was there. God wrote the Ten Commandments."
At the height of the debate, Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, took to the microphone to announce that Alabama State University’s baseball team beat Auburn University’s team 9-3 in a game Wednesday. He asked whether the lack of attention to the game was a violation of the Ten Commandments.
"You're stretching to make this germane," replied House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.
Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma, said that if lawmakers want to act as Christians, they should enact legislation that helps the poorest Alabamians. He said lawmakers should expand Medicaid or increase the minimum wage to help poor people.
"If we're serious about the Ten Commandments, why not just put up the one commandment Jesus said was most important?" he said. "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
The bill passed the House 77-19, with four abstentions.
In other legislative business:
— The House voted 92-6 to pass a bill by Rep. Koven L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, that would stiffen penalties on funeral home directors who sell "pre-need" funeral services, but don't deliver services after the client dies. A similar bill passed the Senate 32-0 Thursday. One of the bills must pass both houses in order to become law.
— The Senate voted 32-0 to delete a provision that would require "wartime service" for family members of disabled or deceased veterans to qualify for college scholarships offered through the state Veterans Affairs department. Some families lost their scholarships a few years ago, after the VA discovered that it has improperly ignored the wartime service rule.
— Senators postponed a vote on a bill that would establish regulations for electricity-producing wind farms like the one proposed for Shinbone Ridge in Etowah and Cherokee counties. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Phil Williams, R-Gadsden, said the bill would likely come up again Tuesday.
— By a narrow 14-13 vote, senators approved a bill that would lessen the penalty for fraudulently applying for an Alabama voter identification card from a felony to a misdemeanor. The card, created by a voter ID bill passed in 2011, will see its first use in the 2014 elections.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
HOW THEY VOTED:
A “yes” vote would approve an amendment to the Constitution of 1901 that would allow display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, including schools.
• Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston: No
• Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville: Yes
• Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford: Yes
• Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks: Yes.