Mississippi bill would require teachers to recite the Ten Commandments every morning

The bill is clearly unconstitutional.

A Ten Commandments monument located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images
A Ten Commandments monument located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

A Democratic Mississippi state lawmaker has proposed a new bill to place the Ten Commandments in every school. It’s clearly unconstitutional.

Last week, State Rep. Credell Calhoun (D) introduced House Bill 1100, which would imposes three related requirements on schools, only one of which would actually be allowed under the U.S. Constitution:

  • Every school board must require a 60-second moment of reflection at the beginning of each school day.
  • In every classroom, school, auditorium, and cafeteria, there must be posted an 11×14 (minimum) display featuring the Ten Commandments and the U.S. motto, “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
  • Every morning, teachers must recite the Ten Commandments aloud at the beginning of the first hour of class, though any student or teacher who objects must be excused without penalty.

The moment of silence is allowed. Indeed, 36 states have legislation related to school moments of silence, 23 of which permit the moments while 13 require the moments. The Supreme Court has ruled that such moments are allowed, so long as they serve a secular purpose. If, for example, Calhoun had written in his bill that the moment was intended to be used for prayer, then that would run afoul of what the Court has allowed.

But it’s unquestionable that the Court would reject the other aspects of his bill as unconstitutional. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 1992 case Lee v. Weisman, “The Establishment Clause was inspired by the lesson that in the hands of government what might begin as a tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce. Prayer exercises in elementary and secondary schools carry a particular risk of indirect coercion.”

The bill comes mere months after Roy Moore occupied the national spotlight as the Republican Senate candidate from the neighboring state of Alabama. As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore infamously installed a monument of the Ten Commandments in front of the Court. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it violated the Establishment Clause, and after Moore refused to follow the federal court’s order to remove it, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed him from office.

It’s unclear if Calhoun’s bill has any chance of advancing, but if it does, it will surely be shut down quickly by the courts.