Why this Christian opposes a bill to post the Ten Commandments in Texas Public School Classrooms

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Senate Bill 1515 has passed in the Texas Senate and is now being considered by the Public Education Committee of the Texas House of Representatives.  This bill seeks to modify the Texas Education code to say, “A public elementary or secondary school shall display in a conspicuous place in each classroom of the school a durable poster or framed copy of the Ten Commandments.”

I don’t oppose the Ten Commandments.  I don’t oppose kids learning about the Ten Commandments.  I don’t oppose teachers referring to the Ten Commandments as a part of a lesson about comparative religions or rule of law.  Heck, I don’t even care if a teacher puts up a poster of the Ten Commandments just because they want to use it to decorate the room.

I do strongly oppose SB 1515 which REQUIRES the Ten Commandments to be posted in all elementary and secondary public school classrooms in Texas.

It takes some work to get a bill passed through the Texas Senate, and I wonder what in the world inspired Senator Phil King of Weatherford and his compatriots to do that work?  To try to get a little insight I looked up his website.  On the page labeled “Issues”, I found this statement: “Ensuring Religious Liberty – Government must never regulate or interfere with religious practices. The First Amendment unequivocally guarantees our freedom to worship and live out our faith in God without government interference.”

I too believe strongly in “ensuring religious liberty.”  Here is the wording from the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

I believe a bill passed by the legislature REQUIRING that a Judeo-Christian scripture be posted in all public school classrooms, where children are REQUIRED to attend is clearly making a law “respecting establishment of religion.”  Why in the world would a senator who says “Government must never regulate … religious practices” propose such a bill? Isn’t requiring scripture to be posted a religious practice?

The most generous thing I can think is that Senator King and others who are pushing this bill are worried about the current state of our schools – so worried that their concern supersedes any scruples about religious liberty.  They must believe that posting the Ten Commandments will somehow help make our schools better.

But how?  How will REQUIRING the Ten Commandments be posted in EVERY public school classroom make our Texas schools better?

Please consider for a moment the complicated challenge we have set for our public schools.  The simplest statement I can think of to summarize the purpose of our public schools is this: To prepare future generations for work and for citizenship in a democracy.

If we accept even that oversimplified statement, first we have to figure out WHAT skills and knowledge are needed to prepare future generations for work and for citizenship… how much math? How much science? How much reading?  What should students read?  How much history?  Whose history?  Should we offer vocational classes?  What vocations?  Should we be explicitly teaching values and character?  What do we do if community members disagree about what should be taught? These few questions don’t even scratch the surface of all the questions about what we plan to teach.

Then we must wrestle with the question of WHO we plan to teach.  The answer to that is everyone – rich, poor, academically smart, not so academically smart, well-behaved, not so well-behaved, visual learners, kinesthetic learners, audio learners, special ed learners, etc. etc.  We expect our schools to teach students who get a whipping at home when they break the rules, and students who get a time out when they break the rules. We expect our public schools to teach children who want for nothing, and children who haven’t had anything to eat but ramen and peanut butter since the last free school meal.  We expect our public schools to teach students who go to churches, synagogues, mosques – and students who stay home and watch cartoons.  We expect our public schools to teach students who come from families with a mom and dad, and students who come from families with two dads, or only a mom,  or only a dad, or a grandmom who is taking on raising yet another generation of kids. We expect our public schools to teach students whose families engage in every possible combination of drinking, praying, cussing, reading books, watching tik-toks, watching Disney, watching John Wick, vacationing in Europe, hunting together, playing T-ball, playing golf, driving hybrids, driving Ford F-150’s, and listening to rap music, or country music, or gospel music, or yacht rock, or jazz or whatever else.

Then we get to the question of HOW we will teach these “future generations.”  Will we have students lined up in rows listening quietly like some of us seem to believe happened in the “good old days?”  Will we try to integrate technology?  Group projects? Will we make things hands on?  Will everyone move at the same pace or go at their own speed?  How will we adjust for strong students?  How will we adjust for students who struggle?  What shall we do about students who disrupt the class?  Punish them? How?  Try to do a better job engaging them in the work? How?

Now we come to the question of WHO WILL TEACH our children and lead our schools?  Will they be trained in the best information we have for handling the complexities we expect them to handle?  Or do we just believe “anyone can teach?”  Do we want experienced teachers?  If so, how do we plan to retain the best teachers?  How do we decide which teachers are our “best” teachers or even “good enough” teachers?  What kind of pay and benefits do we need to offer to get the teachers we need?  What kind of work environment and professional development should we offer?

How do we decide if our public school system is successful?  Is a once-a-year test the answer?  If so, what should be on that test?  Maybe some kind of portfolio system would be better?  Or maybe good old grades and report cards are really enough? Should we compare our results with students from other states?  Other countries?  How do we make it a fair comparison?  Should we consider improvement?  Or do we just care about the “results?”  How do we account for out-of-school circumstances that affect a student’s in-school ability to focus and learn?

And speaking of those out-of-school circumstances…do we expect our schools to take action to help reduce the negative effects of out-of-school challenges?  Do we need to offer social workers to connect families to local resources that could provide stability?  Should we be offering parent training classes?  Transportation for afterschool activities?  Breakfast, lunch and dinner?

This is a very short description of the very real complexities our public school leaders and teachers and parents and students negotiate every day.  How does posting a copy of the Ten Commandments help with any of this?   Here is the version of the Ten Commandments that will be required to be posted in every elementary and Secondary classroom according to SB 1515:

The Ten Commandments

I AM the LORD thy God.

  • Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  • Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.
  • Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  • Thou shalt not kill.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor ’s house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor ’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor ’s.

Again, I love the Ten Commandments.  I love the Bible.  But, I fail to see how a poster of these Ten Commandments is going to help with any of the serious and complex issues listed above.   If I am honest, I imagine it will take about two hours for these posters to fade completely into the background in every classroom where they are posted.  I doubt four students in the whole state of Texas will even notice them.

It feels to me like the proposers of this bill both overestimate and underestimate its significance.

I think they overestimate how much a poster on the wall of a classroom will contribute to the behavior, moral development and education of the next generation.

I think they underestimate the problematic symbolism of requiring scripture to be posted in all classrooms — regardless of context or relevance to the subject being taught — in state run schools where all students of all different religions or students of no religion at all are required to attend.

In other words, not much benefit, lots of potential problems. Let’s not do it.


I have written a letter opposing SB 1515.  There is still time to circulate this letter widely among Texas House members who will be voting on this bill.  We already have over 400 names. If you agree with me that this bill should be defeated, I would love for you to add your name to the letter and share with others who might be willing to add their names.  Here is the link:  Letter opposing SB 1515.


  1. Jerry Cleaver on May 10, 2023 at 12:49 am

    I can imagine a student asking a teaching to explain the 7th commandment. I doubt the Texas legislature has thought of that. Will there be an official, state approved teacher response to such a question?

  2. Carrie Spivey on May 11, 2023 at 2:31 pm

    This and religion in general, has no business in a healthy, public school environment. This belongs in a church environment that a person has made the decision and action to be in.

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