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Georgia House Minority Leader J. Glenn Richardson told a gathering oflawyers and journalists Saturday that he will introduce a bill torequire all 159 Georgia county courthouses to display the TenCommandments. Chief Justice Norman S. Fletcher, a member of the audience at themeeting, said he worries about the proposed bill’s constitutionality. “I don’t understand how the state Legislature can trump federal courts,”said Fletcher, referring to an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealsdecision that ordered the Alabama Supreme Court to remove a monumentembossed with the Ten Commandments. Richardson said he is undaunted by the potential cost of defending courtchallenges. If the state could pay several million dollars to defend itsredistricting map, he said, then why not spend money to defend the TenCommandments? Richardson’s proposal comes in the wake of a national controversy overformer Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore’s attempt todefend placing a 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments monument in therotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court. The 11th Circuit ordered the monument removed. Moore refused and wassubsequently expelled from his post. Moore, who was here Saturday meeting with supporters at a ChristianCoalition of Georgia event, is appealing his expulsion. In Georgia, the issue has played out in several county courthouses. TheACLU is challenging a Ten Commandments display at the Barrow Countycourthouse and is set to go in front of a federal judge this week in thecase. Richardson’s proposal could be the next battle at the Capitol overseparation of church and state. Georgia garnered national headlines last week over a proposal to expungethe word “evolution” from the state’s school curriculums. FOR THE SAKE OF HISTORY Richardson, a Dallas family and personal injury lawyer, spoke of hisproposal at the Georgia Bar Media Conference in Atlanta, an annualmeeting of media organizations and the State Bar. Richardson disclosed his plan on a panel that discussed how to squarereligious speech and First Amendment rights with the establishmentclause. Richardson called separation of church and state “a fable.” Said Richardson: “The country has a historical perspective on religion,beginning with the Mayflower Compact. The Declaration of Independenceand the Pledge of Allegiance consistently referenced God. … The TenCommandments form the basis for our deliberative processes.” He said he’ll rely on assistance from L. Lynn Hogue, president of theSoutheastern Legal Foundation and a Georgia State University College ofLaw professor, to write a bill that will pass muster constitutionally.Courts have sometimes allowed the display of the Ten Commandments ingovernment buildings if the context is historical, rather than insupport of religion. “The key to any constitutional posting of documents that reflect thereligious background of American law has got to be context,” Hogue said.He said to get around a possible church-state conflict, he would draftthe bill so that the Ten Commandments are part of a larger display withother legal documents, such as the Mayflower Compact, plus a connectinghistorical narrative. Panelist Wendell R. Bird of Atlanta’s Bird & Loechl noted that there ishistoric precedent for allowing the mixture of secular and religioussymbols. Bird said that while Moore’s display was found unconstitutional, thecourt seal of Richmond County, which includes a representation of theTen Commandments, was upheld due to its historic nature. But Fletcher said he gets “concerned that people are misled and don’tunderstand what the federal courts have been saying. There’s a bigdifference between the Richmond County seal and the Ten Commandments,”he added. Richardson said that he’s confident a majority of the House will supporthis proposed bill, though he’s not sure he’ll be able to get it to thefloor for a vote. He added that the idea came from his newly instituted Republican HouseCaucus Policy Council, and he expects to introduce the bill within thenext 10 days. WHICH TRANSLATION WINS? Neil Kinkopf, a Georgia State University law professor and panelist atSaturday’s meeting, reminded the audience that Jews and Christians — andeven Christian denominations — disagree over how to translate the TenCommandments from the original Hebrew. It’s “not some monolithic thing,”Kinkopf said. “How do you display the Ten Commandments in a way that doesn’t take atheological position?” Kinkopf asked. Richardson said Saturday that he had not heard that there was more thanone translation of the Ten Commandments. But reached Monday, he defended the King James Version of the documentas the basis for the Mayflower Compact and English common law, whichbecame the foundation of American law. “The translation most commonly designated as King James is the versionthat played the role in the history of the formation of this country,”Richardson said. He said by making this argument, he won’t “have to get into a discussionof which version is appropriate, because that one is historicallyimportant to the history of the United States.” David E. Hudson, an Augusta lawyer and general counsel for the GeorgiaPress Association, asked Richardson Saturday why he doesn’t get eachcounty to buy a billboard and post the Ten Commandments there, insteadof “wasting” the Legislature’s time with the bill. Richardson responded with a smile, “We may very well do that.” He addedthat he doesn’t deem it a waste of time if citizens are asking for it. On Monday, Richardson added, “There has been, as everyone knows, anassault on our religious and historical freedoms by attempting to denythe role God played in the formation of our history as a nation. Weshould not shy away from it, but should make our history public andteach it,” Richardson said. He called the role the Ten Commandments played in the founding of thiscountry a “fact.” Gerald R. Weber, legal director of the Georgia chapter of the AmericanCivil Liberties Union, said the issue is clear to him. He said while the ACLU hasn’t seen the bill, “it certainly rings ofunconstitutionality.” A spokesman for Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker said the AG’s policyis not to comment on pending legislation.

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