Thursday, March 01, 2001

Ten Commandments debated again

House passes broad teaching guidelines

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — As it has for most every session for the past six years, the Kentucky House on Wednesday again took up the cause of placing the Ten Commandments on classroom walls but with a slightly different outcome this time.

        The House, by a 33-59 vote, turned back a proposal to have schools teach the “influence of the Bible, the Ten Commandments and faith in God on American institutions and law.” Instead, it approved 91-3 broad guidelines for teaching courses, such as literature or com parative religion, that could use text from the Bible, including the Ten Commandments.

        Support for legislation to have the commandments posted on public property has been tempered by federal court rulings that earlier efforts were all unconstitutional.

        Rep. Tom Riner, a Louisville Democrat, warned about the “mischief” that could come from teaching comparative religion. He said students could be misled and would not be given a proper foundation on the importance of traditional religion to the Founding Fathers.

        “He doesn't mind if we teach religion in the public schools so long as it is the Christian faith,” said Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat, the General Assem bly's only Jewish member. “There are other religious faiths in the commonwealth.”

        Ms. Stein and other lawmakers warned colleagues that the state would almost certainly face another losing lawsuit if it passed Mr. Riner's proposal. The American Civil Liberties Union has won large lawyers' fees from the state for its successful suits.

        “I think it's deplorable that this body would have any fear of the ACLU,” said Rep. Stan Lee, a Lexington Republican. Mr. Lee, who is a lawyer, said the rulings against posting the Ten Commandments are only the opinions of the individual judges and not the law.

        Mr. Lee said most people in Kentucky want the Ten Commandments on public display and a part of public school teachings.

        Ms. Stein said the whole notion of a constitutional separation of church and state is to keep a majority from imposing its view on a minority.

        Other legislators opposed the Riner initiative on other grounds.

        Rep. Mark Treesh, an Owensboro Republican, said it would have the legislature dictating how a course should be taught. “We don't write course curricula on the floor of the House,” Mr. Treesh said.

        Rep. Tim Feeley, a Crestwood Republican, said he has four children. “I don't want them learning religion at the public schools. That's my job,” he said.

        The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.


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