Commandments spark local debate as well

By Trina Trice

The Ten Commandments controversy may have started in an Alabama court building, but it has sparked debate all over the country.

In Georgia, the issue has stirred emotions.

"America is getting too far way from religion," said Bill Adams of McDonough.

While Adams would like the U.S. Congress to "let the people decide" how they fill about the Ten Commandments in a government building, others, such as Arthur Moton of Jonesboro, see it as a dangerous habit too many government officials endorse or have overlooked.

Moton believes that without the separation of church and state, the society sets itself up for historical blemishes such as the Salem Witch Trials or a regime similar to that of the Taliban, he said.

Clayton County District Attorney Bob Keller doesn't see it that way.

"I would support having the Ten Commandments, but I understand the separation of church and state," he said. "It's a tough argument. We get so caught up in the separation of church and state that we forget the basic foundation (the Ten Commandments) that governs human conduct. The Ten Commandments do serve as a foundational basis of our law."

Since this country's inception religion and government have been intermingled consistently.

Americans pledge allegiance to "one nation under God." U.S. currency says "In God We Trust." Congress opens each day's work with a prayer, as does the Supreme Court.

Several local government bodies have prayer, or invocations, at the beginning of meetings, such as the Clayton and Henry county Board of Commissioners, the Clayton County Board of Education, and the city councils in Locust Grove, McDonough, Hampton, and Forest Park. include invocation, another word for prayer.

"I don't see it as a conflict at all," said Crandle Bray, chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. "Even if someone has a problem with it, we'd certainly let them excuse themselves."

But a prayer conducted by government officials at meetings is marginally illegal, said Brad Rice, professor of History at Clayton College & State University.

"Georgia has had the prayer in schools (legal) cases," Rice said. "Oftentimes people who support prayer in schools don't understand that it's absolutely legal to pray in school. The rule is against school officials praying in school. The same First Amendment that stops (prayer) from being on the loud speaker, protects the right to do it (on one's on). But prayer (at government meetings) is inappropriate, probably illegal and definitely innocuous."

Henry County Commissioner Gary Freedman also supports prayer before meetings, saying it isn't illegal at all.

"It isn't because we do it before we open the meeting that way it passes the legal litmus test," he said.

About the Ten Commandments controversy, Freedman said, "I think it's a terrible day when a country that was founded on religion, makes it illegal to post the Ten Commandments. I think our forefathers are spinning in their graves."

Whatever the outcome of the battle over the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama state Judicial Building, religious symbols and words will continue to be embedded in the government, the courts and other public places.

Shannon Jones of Morrow, who has studied political science, agrees.

"In our Constitution and our Preamble we talk about God," she said. "Even though we try to separate church and state, I think our forefathers based this country on Christianity. It's not separate and it never will be."

Alabama's associate Supreme Court justices ordered the 5,300-pound granite monument displaying the Ten Commandments removed from the rotunda of the state judicial building Thursday, despite Chief Justice Roy Moore's fiery defense of the monument. The U.S. Supreme Court has said it would not stay the removal, and Moore has promised he would appeal.

Moore spent much of Thursday vowing to do everything within his power to keep the monument in place.

Moore's supporters kept vigil Friday morning from their sleeping bags and bedrolls strewn outside the courthouse.

"I think that's the only way they can make the people realize what's happening," Adams said. "I think it's a good deal."

Still, protesters outside the building said they were willing to stand in the heat and risk arrest for days or weeks to keep the monument inside. Twenty-one were arrested Wednesday night on trespassing charges.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.