Jim Beam column:How about the 10 Bill of Rights?

Published 6:25 am Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Much is being written about the new Louisiana law requiring that the Ten  Commandments be placed in every classroom in the state, including grades K-12 and at university and college levels.

Lawsuits have already been filed that say the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s first of 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights. So, we’ll let the courts work that one out.

Chris D’Elia of Baton Rouge in a letter to The Advocate has an excellent idea.

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“… the Bill of Rights represents the Ten Commandments of the U.S. government,” D-Elia said. “If our Legislature wants to compel putting something on the walls of every classroom, it should be that.”

D-Elia said teaching about the Bill of Rights would be constitutional. He said the Legislature should focus its scarce public resources on improving student achievement in math, science, reading, writing, civics and American history.

As a former high school teacher of English, American history and civics/government, I agree with many who are convinced that civics education is in a crisis.

All 50 states require some form of instruction in civics and/or government, and nearly 90% of students take at least one civics class, according to  a news report at nea.org, the National Education Association. However, it adds that factual book learning isn’t reinforced with experience-based learning opportunities like community service, guided debates, and critical discussion.

Before anyone files a complaint, I am well aware that the NEA doesn’t have much credibility with conservative Republicans on the far right, but that is their problem, not mine.

Unfortunately, Republican opposition is the reason one out of four teachers surveyed by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement thought parents would object if they taught about politics in a government or civics class. Only 38% thought their district would give them strong support.

A vast majority of Louisiana’s Republican legislators have gone out of their way, particularly at their last session, to pass laws telling teachers what they can and cannot teach. It is a major reason why many teachers are leaving the profession.

With all of that said, let’s get back to the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The odds are that many of today’s students aren’t aware of exactly what the amendments are about.

The first one is the reason lawsuits are being filed about displaying the Ten Commandments in every classroom. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

The amendment also protects “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The second amendment is perhaps the best-known of all the amendments. It protects “the right of the people to keep and bear arms…”

The third amendment says we don’t have to keep any soldiers in our homes, and the fourth says we have a right to be secure in our homes and we are free from being searched and having items seized without a warrant.

The fifth amendment says we have to be indicted for an offense and don’t have to be a witness against ourselves. The sixth says we have a right to a speedy and public trial. The seventh guarantees our right to trial by jury.

The eighth amendment talks about no excessive fines and no cruel and unusual punishment. The ninth amendment says our rights can’t deny other people’s rights.

States love the tenth amendment because it says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Our churches are doing a good job of keeping their members up to date on the Ten Commandments without the state getting involved. And our educators are trained to keep our children informed about what it takes to get the most out of what life has to offer.

I enjoyed my time in the classroom and have received positive feedback over the years from many former students. And I was privileged to teach during a time when legislators did their thing and left teachers alone to do theirs.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.



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