Alabama State Rep. DuWayne Bridges proposed an amendment to the state's constitution on Monday that would allow public schools and other state properties to display the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. When Raw Story telephoned the legislator to ask if similar efforts would be made to display Judaic and Islamic documents, Bridges became angry and hung up.
Representatives of the groups American Atheists, Inc. and People for the American Way told Raw Story the proposed amendment would bring the state into direct conflict with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion.
When asked about conflicts with the First Amendment in HB 45, Rep. Bridges said, "Well, that's not the way I feel. I've had it checked out and it won't just be the Ten Commandments, if that's what you're referring to. There'll be historical documents with it."
Bridges said that the Biblical scripture would appear alongside the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.
Bridges became agitated after being asked whether there be any effort made to include other religions, such as the Judaic Torah or the Islamic Koran.
“No, no, you’re wrong. Our country wasn’t founded on the Koran nor anything else! It was founded on godly principles, so that’s what you need to put in there, thank you.” He then abruptly hung up.
People for the American Way's director of communications Drew Courtney told Raw Story that the effort to amend Alabama's constitution as Bridges proposes is doomed to fail. Many such efforts have failed before because of their clear conflict with the Constitution's separation of church and state.
"This is a fight that's been fought and the decision has been made," he said, in multiple states, but particularly in Alabama, where conservative Christian Judge Roy Moore repeatedly tried to defy the federal government by displaying a Ten Commandments monument on public property at the Alabama Supreme Court.
Moore was ultimately stripped of his Chief Justice title because of his failure to comply with federal orders.
"It won't be effective," Courtney said of the proposed amendment to Alabama's constitution. "It's clearly unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear. Government officials can't be putting the Ten Commandments as an endorsement of religion in public buildings."
The situation would be different, he explained, "if the Ten Commandments were showing up as part of a display on comparative religion in a school, that would be acceptable, or if they were going to show up at a law school or a courthouse as part of a display of the history of law in context."
"It's settled law," concluded Courtney, "and his proposed amendment to the Alabama constitution is not going to change it."
Dave Muscato of American Atheists told Raw Story that on its face, Commandment One -- "You shall have no other gods before me" -- contradicts the First Amendment in that it specifies precisely which deity to worship.
Again and again, Muscato said, politicians like Bridges have made these challenges to federal law knowing they won't get far, but that they can use resistance to the initiatives to whip evangelical Christian voters into a frenzy and feed their sense of victimhood.
"DuWayne Bridges knows this is not going anywhere," said Muscato, "but this is what evangelical Christian voters like to see."
He went on, "Christians have this persecution complex. They want to be martyrs." But, with nearly 80 percent of Americans identifying as Christians, "There aren't any executioners in this country that are doing that for them."
"They are the majority, they do have political power," Muscato said. "They have the Congress, they have the White House, they're not martyrs. They do things like this because it makes them look like victims and they like that. It's part of their understanding of how their religion works."
It isn't just atheists and non-Christians who should be afraid of theocracy, he said. "There are more than 30,000 separate sects of Christianity." Which group would have moral authority over the others?
And finally, Muscato pointed out that the Ten Commandments on the whole are "a terrible moral code" that should be kept away from "impressionable children."
"I could come up with a better moral code right now," he said. "They have maybe four things in there that are actually worth listening to. If I were doing this, I would exchange 'Don't worship other gods' for 'Don't own other people.' That's kind of an important little thing that didn't make God's top ten."
"Or maybe instead of 'Don't use the word God when you cuss,' maybe 'Don't rape people,' which also didn't make the top ten," he suggested.
As for Rep. Bridges, Muscato said, "I don't know DeWayne Bridges, I've never talked to him, but in my experience, Christians aren't able to list the Ten Commandments, and it's my guess that he doesn't even know what they are."
Bridges hung up on Raw Story before there was a chance to ask him.
[image of DuWayne Bridges via legislature.state.al.us]