PHOENIX - Saying the minority must be tolerant of the majority, Republicans who control the Senate Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to require a copy of the Ten Commandments to be erected in front of the old state Capitol.
SB 1213 directs the Legislative Council, the main occupant of the building, to look for donations to put up a monument, plaque or some other permanent form of the Ten Commandments. The measure now goes to the full Senate.
The 5-3 vote came over the objections of the Democrats on the panel who said it amounted to the state imposing what are the beliefs of the majority on everyone else.
Sen. Amanda Aguirre, D-Yuma, said she is a Catholic and believes in the Ten Commandments. But she said posting them in front of a government building amounts to "imposing our religious beliefs on other folks that have their own God."
But Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who crafted the measure, said it's wrong to think of the Ten Commandments as religious. Instead, he called them "10 little rules," saying that if everyone honored them, "boy, what a better place this would be."
Anyway, Pearce said it is clear the United States was founded on those principles. And he said the intent of the First Amendment, providing freedom of religion, is not to keep the government from displaying symbols like this but to keep the government from interfering with religious worship.
But Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction, said she does not read it that way.
"True religious liberty means freedom from having the government impose the religion of the majority on all of the citizens," she said.
"The fact of the matter is, not all Americans subscribe to religions that follow the Bible or the Ten Commandments," Rios continued. "And the assumption that the posting would be in the best interests of all Americans is, in effect, an act of religious intolerance."
"Tolerance works two ways," responded Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. "People need to be tolerant of the majority's beliefs as well as the majority needs to be tolerant of the minority's beliefs.
"I don't know why it would be that offensive," she continued. Allen said anyone who doesn't believe in what the Ten Commandments say is free to ignore the words, even if they are posted next to a government building.
"There are many things on TV that I'm offended by," she continued. "Everybody says, 'Just turn it off.' "
Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, said if Pearce believes the commandments have no religious significance, he should have no problem with other groups, using private money, to post their own commandments next to the Capitol. Pearce said anyone who wants to push that concept is free to do so.
"But not on my bill," he said.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said his colleagues are worrying too much about running afoul of the First Amendment. It says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
"The 'establishment' clause of the United States Constitution doesn't apply to the states," he said.
Gould said states such as Virginia actually had state religions before the formation of the federal government. He said the deal that resulted in the Constitution was designed to let states continue down that path with a promise Congress would not get in the way.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, quipped that the Eighth Commandment forbids people from stealing. "Do you think we could put that one over at the Department of Revenue?" he asked.
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