Utah House committee approves Ten Commandments bill despite constitutional concerns

Feb 15, 2024, 8:24 PM | Updated: 10:24 pm

Tuesday February 9, 2006. Photo by Scott G. Winterton / Deseret Morning News.The Ten Commandments m...

Tuesday February 9, 2006. Photo by Scott G. Winterton / Deseret Morning News.The Ten Commandments monument at 105 south and 100 east in Pleasant Grove was under attack from the Society of Separationists but now they have dropped the lawsuit. Tuesday February 9, 2006. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah Republican lawmaker is no longer pushing to require public schools to display a copy of the Ten Commandments.

Instead, Rep. Michael Petersen, R-North Logan, wants to add the Ten Commandments and the Magna Carta to a list of materials “that school curricula and activities may include for a thorough study.”

However, there are still concerns that even the latest version of HB269 violates the Utah Constitution, which states that no public money may be used for “any religious worship, exercise or instruction.”

“There definitely is the possibility that it runs afoul of that provision of the Constitution,” said Michael Curtis, an attorney in the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, during a hearing Tuesday of the House Education Committee.

The committee voted 6-2 during that hearing to advance the bill.

The list of historical documents that can be taught in Utah schools includes the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the national anthem.

Petersen defended adding the Ten Commandments.

“As a historical document – the Ten Commandments – it’s undeniable the place that it has in our history,” Petersen told the committee, referring multiple times to the religiosity of the American founders. “While it is obviously a religious document, the import that it had in our nation’s history should not be overlooked.”

Rep. Karen Peterson, R-Clinton, first brought up the possible conflict with the Utah Constitution during the committee hearing. That led to Curtis, the legislative attorney, giving his opinion while noting he “can’t tell” how the Utah Supreme Court would apply that clause.

Democrats pushed back against the bill. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, called it a “slippery slope” and said students can learn about the Ten Commandments elsewhere.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, expressed concerns about violating religious neutrality and mandating material for teachers.

But just before the vote, Rep. Steven Lund, R-Manti, said he believed students could view the Ten Commandments through a historical lens, not a religious one.

The bill now awaits a vote in the full House of Representatives. The legislative session ends March 1.

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Utah House committee approves Ten Commandments bill despite constitutional concerns