- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The fight over the Ten Commandments after Monday’s two Supreme Court decisions now moves to Congress, where Republicans say they might have to legislate a solution to help clear up confusion from the rulings.

“I don’t see how if you have one document in two district cases, that the display of that very same document can in one instance be unconstitutional and in another instance constitutional,” said Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican.

Mr. Hostettler already has the most likely avenue for congressional action on the rulings. Two weeks ago, he won passage of an amendment to a House spending bill that would prevent U.S. marshals from carrying out a court order to remove a Ten Commandments display from the Gibson County Courthouse in Indiana.

In two 5-4 rulings Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a Texas monument of the Ten Commandments, but struck down two Kentucky displays, saying it must evaluate each case separately.

Mr. Hostettler said the federal district judge in Indiana might lift his order, but added, “Until that happens, I’m going to push for my amendment.”

The amendment prohibits any funds from being spent to remove the display — an exercise of Congress’ power of the purse. The Senate’s version of the spending bill does not include similar language, but House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said the Senate will have to deal with Mr. Hostettler’s amendment at some point.

“I would hope that the Senate will take it up and deal with these issues. If they’re not, it’s in the bill, and we’ll deal with it in conference when we get there,” he said. “But if the Congress has an amendment that says no such funds will be used to enforce it, then the Congress has spoken, and hopefully, people will understand that.”

Mr. DeLay said House Republicans aren’t afraid to use that type of legislation to address what he called “incredibly confusing” decisions in the past 20 years on the Ten Commandments and the role of religion.

“To base decisions on religion upon a letter written by Thomas Jefferson and having no relevance to the Constitution of the United States gets you into this mess,” he said, referring to an 1802 letter in which Jefferson coined the metaphor “a wall of separation between church and state.”

Elsewhere in Congress, Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, said he is going ahead with plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would allow the posting the Ten Commandments and the Pledge of Allegiance with a reference to God and would permit, but not mandate, school prayer.

“Things have gotten out of control. The courts aren’t going to stop until we stop them,” he said.

Some Democrats defended the court’s rulings as striking the right balance between displays meant for religious purposes and those for which the religious meaning is incidental.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the decisions “taken together send, frankly, an appropriate message.”

“It is not the government’s role to promote that religion,” Mr. Hoyer said. “That’s really what the distinction is between those two cases.”

Mr. Hoyer also said Mr. Hostettler’s amendment was “unfortunate.”

“Legislation which is designed to undercut the enforcement of the law as found by the courts, until that law is changed, undermine a nation of laws,” he said.

In addition to the Ten Commandments ruling, last week’s decision allowing broader use of eminent domain also is drawing a legislative response.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, this week introduced a bill to declare Congress’ view that eminent domain should only be exercised for public use and to limit state and local governments’ use of eminent domain on projects that include federal money.

Seven other senators have signed on to Mr. Cornyn’s bill, and a companion measure has been introduced in the House by Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana Republican.

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