MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama voters will decide this November whether the state will become anti-abortion and will allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on state property such as courts and schools.
The two proposed constitutional amendments, passed by lawmakers during this year's legislative session, will appear as referendums on the general-election ballot. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill threw his support behind them at a ceremonial bill-signing at the Alabama State Capitol on Friday.
Republican Sen. Gerald Dial backed the amendment to authorize the display of the Ten Commandments on state property. He, Merrill and other supporters of the amendment said Friday that teaching the Ten Commandments is important.
"Do the people of Alabama want to acknowledge God, the God of the Old and New Testament, the Christian God? Do we want to acknowledge the God that our nation was founded upon?" asked Dean Young, chairman of the Ten Commandments Amendment political action committee. Young said he's been fighting for the amendment for 17 years.
"Alabamians will vote, they will reckon on that day with God how they vote on this, that's how serious this is," Young said. "Either we stand for God or we won't."
Critics say the amendment would violate the separation of church and state and prompt federal lawsuits. Dial said he is prepared to fight any challenge to the amendment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The wording of the amendment, however, precludes using any state funds to defend it.
If the amendment did spark a lawsuit, it wouldn't be the first time there's been a legal tussle over the Ten Commandments in Alabama. Roy Moore, who lost the special U.S. Senate election in December, was removed as chief justice of the state's Supreme Court in 2003 because he refused a federal court's order to take down a marble monument of the Ten Commandments.
The second proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot, backed by Republican Rep. Matt Fridy, would declare Alabama an anti-abortion state. The amendment would state the "sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children" and prohibit any provision of the constitution from providing the right to an abortion or requiring funding of abortions.
It wouldn't outlaw abortion, however, because federal law guaranteeing a woman's right to an abortion outweighs state law.
Merrill said Friday that he's "against abortion 100 percent" but said "it's the law of the land" and "we should follow the law."
"If you're asking about enforcing law, it always needs to be enforced. If you don't like the law, find a way to change it," Merrill said. He pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has changed its opinion in the past and it's possible it could happen again in the future.
"A number of things can happen over the next few years, especially if the president (Donald Trump) continues to be in good health and ... continues to replace justices in the Supreme Court," Merrill said.
The general election is scheduled for Nov. 6.
This story has been corrected to show that Republican Rep. Matt Fridy, not Republican Sen. Jim McClendon, sponsored the second amendment.