Fix it, Mr. D!
Forget, just for a moment, that there’s so much on the Alabama Legislature’s plate: widespread budgetary issues that could spell more impending doom, the possibility of expanding the state’s pre-K program, and the Republicans’ promise that they will “dare to defend our rights” during this session.
Oh, yes. Our rights.
In Dial’s world, it should be legal to display the Ten Commandments — an irreplaceable cornerstone of Christianity — anywhere Christians may gather. That includes secular places such as public buildings, which could be anything from courthouses to legislative chambers. In his world, it’s a no-brainer: pass the bill as a constitutional amendment, place it on the ballot and wait for God-fearing Alabamians to make it so, which they will if given the chance. Bank on it.
What’s better, lawmakers have tweaked the wording of Dial’s bill so that pesky federal lawyers and judges aren’t likely to strike it down. The bill doesn’t specify the Ten Commandments. Instead, it calls for the legalization of the display of “historically significant documents.”
In other words, Dial and his buddies have figured out a way to get what they want and hold the courts at bay. Yahoo. Roy Moore will be so proud.
It gets better. Secularists are already asking: If you display the Ten Commandments, what about “historically significant documents” from other religions? Will they be included?
Here’s the answer Republican Sen. Bryan Taylor of Prattville, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees alterations to the state Constitution, gave this week to The Star:
“Documents that are not part of our Judeo-Christian, Western civilization foundations would not be included.”
Is it because they’re not “historically significant?”
Or is it because Dial and his cohorts are OK with setting a tone of religious inequality in public buildings? In other words, if you’re a Muslim or Buddhist, for example, you need to keep it to yourself.
Guess it’s all part of “defending our rights.”
So much for the Bill of Rights’ “historically significant” part that says Congress shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Of course, the Bill of Rights says nothing that would keep state governments from diving head-first into this quagmire that is the separation of church and state.
Eschewing that argument, let’s go in a different direction.
U.S. archives are packed with innumerable “historically significant documents,” many of which have nothing to do with religion (generally) or Christianity (specifically). If Dial & Co. are sincere about their wish to allow the display of such documents, here are a few — some religious in nature, some not — they should require to hang alongside the Ten Commandments:
1. “A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” James Madison’s letter to the Virginia General Assembly, 1785.
The short of it: This Founding Father urged the Virginia government not to legislate religious conformity or restrict another’s right to religious freedom.
2. The farewell address of President George Washington, 1796.
A template for U.S. policy, and perhaps the greatest words our first president ever wrote.
3. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.
Watch your back, guard your words. Big Brother is everywhere.
4. The Monroe Doctrine, 1823.
Hands off, Europeans (and others): North America is ours.
5. Declaration of Causes of secession of the Confederate states, 1860-61.
Any “historically significant” U.S. display should include this line from Mississippi’s document: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”
6. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America, 1861.
Include this, too: “In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government.”
7. “Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage,” Frederick Douglass, 1867.
Better than anyone, Douglass adds a first-person voice to the plight of freedmen.
8. The Sedition Act of 1918.
In effect, freedom of speech during wartime was erased. So much for the First Amendment.
9. Text of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech, 1963.
The next day, MLK died in Memphis.
10. President Bush’s remarks at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, 2001.
The highlight of 43’s presidential speeches, encased in the sadness and patriotism of 9/11.
Consider these an addendum to the obvious must-haves, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address. But also consider them as an illustration of what Dial & Co. don’t want to hear:
“Historically significant documents” can mean different things to different Alabamians, and Alabamians come in all shapes, all sizes, and all religions.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.