JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi is among the first states in the nation to make it lawful to allow religious documents to be posted on public property.
The law gives permission to those in authority of public buildings to post the Ten Commandments, excerpts of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and the motto, "In God We Trust."
By signing Senate Bill 2486 on April 20, Gov. Haley Barbour "thrills" the Christian conservative base of the Republican Party, which he'll need if he plans to seek re-election or launch a presidential campaign, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Virginia.
"Fundamentalist Christians can be a majority of those who turn up in caucus primaries. This would be very useful in seeking the Republican nomination for president," Sabato said.
Barbour, a former Republican National Party Chairman and political director for the Reagan White House, has dismissed speculation about a run for the presidency in 2008.
Barbour signed the bill without a public ceremony. The law is the latest in a string of legislation supported by Mississippi's Christian conservatives.
In 2001, Mississippi passed a law that required "In God We Trust" to be posted in every public classroom, cafeteria and gym. Last fall, Mississippi approved a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. A state law banned same-sex marriages in 1997.
Barbour already has a Ten Commandments display in his Capitol office.
"When I went to Yazoo High, we started each day with prayer and a Ten Commandments monument stood right outside the front door on the grounds of the school. Those were good things back then, and they would be good things today," Barbour said.
Sabato said Mississippi's new law represented fallout from former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore was ousted from office in November 2003 for refusing to remove his Ten Commandments monument from public display in the state judicial building.
Several states, including South Carolina and Michigan, are considering legislation to display the Ten Commandments on public property.
Steve Crampton, chief counsel for the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association Center for Law and Policy, said Mississippi's bill was part of a resurgence of support for public acknowledgment of God.
"There's a real argument to be made that this sort of bill appeals to mainstream America," Crampton said.
In 2001, AFA helped raise $25,000 to put framed "In God We Trust" posters in Mississippi classrooms.
The Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union is awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling over the constitutionality of displaying the Decalogue on public property before deciding whether to challenge the new law. Justices have heard arguments in cases from Texas and Kentucky.
Mississippi ACLU Executive Director Nsombi Lambright called the new law political maneuvering. Mississippi is the only state to move forward with a Ten Commandments law before the federal ruling, she said.
"The way they're talking about it, they're using this to restore morality, and that's not the purpose of state government," Lambright said.
She said the ACLU had received calls about the displays appearing in some buildings, but no formal complaint had been filed.