AUSTIN, Texas (NewsNation) — A Texas Senate bill that would require displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools is renewing the debate on the separation of church and state.
Supporters of the bill say the Ten Commandments are part of the United States’ history, while opponents say it would violate religious freedoms.
The bill would require the Ten Commandments to be displayed in each classroom on a poster or frame that is at least 16 inches wide and 20 inches tall. These posters could be displayed in classrooms across Texas as soon as this fall if the bill is passed.
Currently, the bill is pending in the state Senate Committee on Education, which just heard public testimony on the proposal Thursday. Seven members voiced their support for the bill, but one member expressed concern.
“I think this would be a good, healthy step for Texas to bring back this tradition of recognizing America’s religious heritage. Senate bill 1515 restores a little bit of those liberties that were lost,” Texas Sen. Phil King (R-Weatherford), who introduced the bill, said.
However, John Litzler, the general counsel and director of Public Policy at Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, disagreed.
“I should have the right to introduce my daughter to the concept of adultery and coveting one’s spouse, it shouldn’t be one of the first things she reads in her kindergarten classroom,” Litzler said.
A monument of the Ten Commandments has been displayed on the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin since 1961. It’s also not the first time that Texas, or other states, have tried to incorporate the Ten Commandments in the classroom.
However, one group in support of the bill said Texas is the first to file a bill like this since last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned what’s called the “Lemon test,” which determined whether a law or government activity violates the First Amendment.
While it’s too soon to tell how far this bill will go, Rice University political science professor Mark Jones explained what Republican identity politics look like.
“Just as we have identity politics in the Democratic party that tends to revolve around ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation, on the Republican side, we’re seeing identity politics related to religion and going back to reinforce the Judeo-Christian origins of the United States,” Jones said.
This has even played out in rhetoric on the national political stage.
Last year, during her campaign, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said, “The church is supposed to direct the government.”
And more recently, New York City Mayor Eric Adams received some criticism for his speech during an interfaith breakfast event in which he said, “State is the body, church is the heart … you can’t take the heart out of the body.”
However, Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the government should not endorse any certain faith. And the American Civil Liberties Union said the Constitution expressly prohibits the entanglement of church and state.
“The U.S. Constitution expressly prohibits the entanglement of church and state, and the Texas Constitution guarantees the freedom of worship,” David Donatti, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas said. “This bill [SB 1515], which would require every classroom to display the Ten Commandments, is a great example of failed priorities and failed leadership. Whether we celebrate Ramadan, Easter, Passover or nothing at all, people of all faiths and creeds should together resist the State’s endorsement of one particular religion.”
Also, a Pew research study from 2021 showed more than two-thirds of respondents do not want the government to declare an official religion.
Devan Markham contributed to this report.