- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

RICHMOND A bill that would have ordered the state Board of Education to draft guidelines for schools on posting the Ten Commandments on classroom walls died yesterday before a Senate committee.

The Senate Education and Health Committee voted 9-6 to kill the bill after committee members grilled Delegate Scott Lingamfelter over his intent in submitting legislation similar to a Kentucky law the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 1980.

Mr. Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, wanted to establish rules schools could use to post the commandments from the Bible's Book of Exodus, along with excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Virginia's Constitution.

"I hope you can see this bill is not about religion, but about transcendent values and historical texts," said Mr. Lingamfelter, whose bill originally called for only the posting of the commandments on public-school walls.

Sen. R. Edward Houck was concerned about which version of the commandments, which are sacred to Jews, Catholics and Protestants, would be posted and whether secularizing them for public schools was sacrilege.

"Are you suggesting that the state Board of Education, with the guidance of the attorney general, we're asking them to write holy Scripture?" said Mr. Houck, Spotsylvania County Democrat.

"I am not suggesting, senator, a generic version. I am not suggesting that they rewrite. I am suggesting that they will settle on an acceptable rendering of the Ten Commandments," Mr. Lingamfelter said.

His assurances didn't ease other senators' concerns.

"Wars have been fought over less than this," Sen. Janet Howell, Reston Democrat, said of the possibility that the panel would redraft the commandments.

Sen. Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican and committee chairman, said he saw no way to secularize some of the commandments such as "Thou shalt have no other God before me," and "Thou shalt remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."

Robert Alley, professor emeritus of religion at the University of Richmond, told the committee that approving legislation allowing the state to tinker with a portion of Scripture with deep religious meaning to many people could have volatile consequences. He spoke for the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"We have had fights over the translations of the Bible," Mr. Alley said, noting 1844 riots in Philadelphia after Catholics asked the school board to allow Catholic students to read from Catholic Bibles, rather than the King James Bible.

"When you talk about the Ten Commandments, you are talking about a religious document, and saying it isn't doesn't make it so," said the Rev. J. Fletcher Lowe, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

The legislation last week passed the House of Delegates 53-46.

On a voice vote, the committee also approved legislation that calls for posting "In God We Trust" in schools.

By a 10-5 vote, the panel had sent a similar bill by Sen. Nick Rerras, Norfolk Republican, to the floor, where it passed 30-10 after an amendment identifying the words, that appear on U.S. currency, were "the National Motto, enacted by Congress in 1956."

The same amendment was added to Delegate Robert G. Marshall's bill before the committee approved it yesterday and sent it to the full Senate. Mr. Marshall is a Prince William Republican.

Gov. Mark R. Warner will take a position on the bills if they reach his desk, said Kevin D. Hall, his deputy press secretary.


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