“I believe we cannot tackle the challenges we face as a state and nation if we continue to remove God from our culture”, Governor Kay Ivey…
“Bill Hightower showed a lack of courage, leadership and conviction and should not be our next governor,” Dean Young said in a YouTube video on Friday.
Young is chairman of the Ten Commandments political action committee and served as campaign strategist for former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Young blasted Hightower for “a less than enthusiastic” response on a question about a proposed state constitutional amendment allowing the display of the biblical laws on public property.
Alabama voters will decide the matter in November.
Hightower on Thursday said the legislation that creates the amendment has “no teeth” because it doesn’t allow state funds to defend it.
“I am much more interested in the Ten Commandments being written on someone’s heart, not on a wall,” Hightower said. “That’s where the emphasis needs to be, frankly.”
Hightower, R-Mobile, is one of four candidates running for governor ahead of the June 5 primary. He made the comment during the WVTM-TV Republican gubernatorial debate on Thursday.
He added, “They are the greatest groups of laws that have changed the course of history of mankind for a long time. There is no doubt on their impact to the world. But this law? I don’t believe it will be a big issue for us. We can’t defend it.”
Hightower was joined in the debate by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Birmingham evangelist Scott Dawson. Gov. Kay Ivey did not attend.
Battle, in his debate statements, said he believes the constitutional amendment will pass, and that he plans to vote for it. If the amendment is challenged in federal court based on separation of church and state, “we’ll take further action,” he said.
Said Battle: “That one issue needs to be defined once and for all, so we have no other questions about it.”
Dawson, a youth pastor, voiced strong support.
“We have to go back on the foundations of our country and understand there is a freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” said Dawson. “The Ten Commandments are influential in everyday life.”
Hightower’s campaign, on Friday, stood by the senator’s remarks. Hightower was absent on the Senate floor when SB181 – the legislation creating the amendment – was approved with a 23-3 vote on Feb. 27. The Alabama House followed up with a 66-19 vote on March 22.
Hightower serves as chairman of the Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee, which passed SB181 to the full Senate for consideration.
Battle’s campaign did not offer further reaction to Hightower’s remark.
Ivey’s campaign, on Sunday, issued a response noting that a copy of the Ten Commandments is already on display inside the Alabama State Capitol. The copy is on display in the east wing of the building next to other historic documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
“I believe we cannot tackle the challenges we face as a state and nation if we continue to remove God from our culture. I will always fight to preserve the Christian principles that have guided our nation since its founding,” Ivey said in a statement.
Dawson told AL.com on Friday that while he likes Hightower and respects him, he disagreed with him on his response to the issue.
“We should have more faith in our communities and the Ten Commandments has so shaped the foundation of our society that it’s a shame that we almost ban it,” he said. “I’m willing to let it defend itself and have its place alongside our culture. I am a proponent of this amendment and I think it will pass overwhelmingly.”
Goes back to Roy Moore
State Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, has been a longtime sponsor of the legislation for a constitutional amendment allowing for public displays of the Ten Commandments. He called the legislation a “priority for me” and admitted that Young helped him write the bill.
Dial said that his interest in the amendment is “not so much” related to Moore, who gained international attention for his past quests in getting a Ten Commandments displayed on public property.
Most notably, Moore had a 5,200-pound Ten Commandments monument installed inside the Heflin-Tolbert Judicial Building in Montgomery shortly after he was elected Supreme Court chief justice in 2001. The monument was removed in 2004, following a federal lawsuit.
Dial said he was unaware of Hightower’s debate response. “I don’t know what Bill’s position is on it. I don’t keep a record on who votes and I’m not getting into that discussion.”
But Dial said he is confident that if the amendment is approved by voters, and become part of the state Constitution, a third party will emerge to defend the state in potential litigation. The amendment specifically says that no state money will be used to defend it during legal challenges.
“This idea that the state has to pay for the Ten Commandments to be defended is ludicrous,” Young said. “A real leader would find religious groups and religious organizations who would love to represent our principals, our students, our teachers and our judges and there would be no cost to the state of Alabama.”
Maggie Garrett, legislative director with Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., said that legal challenges are inevitable if the amendment is approved by voters.
“The people of Alabama should know that displays like those envisioned by this Constitutional Amendment violate the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “There will be challenges to the displays and that will cost the state money. Even if the state obtains free legal counsel to defend each display, the state will be on the hook for paying for the attorney’s fees and the other party when it loses a Constitutional challenge.”
Separation of church and campaign
Hightower was first elected to represent Senate District 35 during a special election in 2013, thanks to strong support from Baptist churches in a historically conservative area west of Mobile. He and his wife Susan attend Covenant Church in Mobile.
But in an interview with AL.com last month, Hightower said he wasn’t fond of having Christian displays on political campaign materials.
“People have asked me to put a fish on my brochure and ‘Christian’ on my brochure,” said Hightower, referring to campaign literature. “I am very much Christian and want to serve God in everything I do. But I don’t want to use that as a tool for my campaign. I think the people of Alabama want to know that their governor is a person of faith and a Christian. But I never wanted to use that as part of my marketing campaign.”
He added, “When I started out as a senator, they asked me to put that stuff on my brochures, and I don’t want to do that. You can say that I’ve done mission work and things like that and that I’m a Christian camp speaker. But it’s come to the point where everyone uses that, so I just think it’s a differentiator in a way. If people hear me and talk and hear about my values, they will know what my faith is.”
This story was updated at 7:27 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, 2018, to include a statement from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
©2018 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham