The fight to display the Ten Commandments in Atlanta

The controversial statue of Thomas Watson is gone from the statehouse; it may be replaced with something equally controversial. Photo: Thomas Watson

ATLANTA, December 13, 2013 — A South Georgia legislator wants the state to place a Ten Commandments display on the grounds of the state capitol, while another lawmaker wants a statue of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. erected.

State Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, pre-filed legislation that would require the Ten Commandments “be procured and placed as soon as practicable.” State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, filed a bill to install a statue of King, an Atlanta native.

SEE RELATED: The war over the Ten Commandments

Under Morris’ measure, the granite monument would depict the Ten Commandments on one side while the preambles to the Georgia Constitution and United States Constitution would be engraved on the other side.

“We have the constitutional right to display it,” Creative Loafing quoted Morris as saying. “[W]hen we, as legislators, swear an oath, we swear it to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Georgia. I believe the freedoms we enjoy in those documents are directly derived from the Ten Commandments.”

When it comes to public displays of the Ten Commandments, Georgia has a long history.

Following a multi-year lawsuit in Barrow County, the state legislature in 2006 passed the “Foundations of American Law and Government.” The measure allowed cities and counties around the state to display the Ten Commandments as part of a display of nine historic documents.

In the Barrow County case, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the county on behalf of an anonymous resident opposed to the display of the Ten Commandments in the county courthouse in Winder. County officials in 2005 agreed to settle the case for $150,001 in legal fees and damages and removed the display.

Should either bill be signed into law, the monument or statue would be placed “at the steps leading to the front entrance of the state capitol building.” That’s where a statue of controversial politician Thomas E. Watson was located until state officials recently moved it, citing the need for new construction.

Watson served in the U.S. House from 1891 until 1893 and the U.S. Senate from 1921 until 1922. But he is remembered, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “for being a voice for Populism and the disenfranchised, and later in life, as a southern demagogue and bigot.”

It’s unclear where the monuments might be placed if both bills become law.

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Todd DeFeo

Todd DeFeo jouned The Washington Times Communities in May 2012. He covers travel and Georgia. A marketing professional who never gave up his award-winning journalistic ways, DeFeo revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He also serves as editor of The Travel Trolley.


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