Rights Groups To Sue as Louisiana Requires Ten Commandments Displayed in Classrooms

"Our public schools are not Sunday schools," the groups said, "and students of all faiths, or no faith, should feel welcome in them."

By Edward Carver | 19 June 2024
Common Dreams

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Rights groups expressed outrage and promised legal action on Wednesday as Louisiana became the only state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public classrooms.

The law requires all public classrooms, from kindergarten to university-level, to display the commandments in “large, easily readable font” by the start of 2025. Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed House Bill 71 into law Wednesday after declaring recently that he “could not wait to be sued.”

Rights groups immediately condemned the law and vowed to challenge it. In a joint statement, the national and state ACLU as well as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the law “blatantly unconstitutional”—a violation of the separation of church and state.

The religious diversity of Louisiana schools must be respected, the groups said.

“Our public schools are not Sunday schools,” the statement said, “and students of all faiths, or no faith, should feel welcome in them.”

To strengthen the law against legal challenges, Republicans framed the requirement as a way of teaching American history. The law’s language declares the Ten Commandments to be one of the “foundational documents of our state and national government”—a claim many critics dispute.

The commandments must be displayed with a “context statement” declaring that they “were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries.” The law offers schools the option to also display the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, or the Northwest Ordinance.

Lawmakers in Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah have recently proposed similar bills regarding the display of the commandments, The Associated Press reported.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Kentucky, citing the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which allows for no laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

Landry took office in January, replacing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who had for eight years stymied the agenda of Republican lawmakers. This year, they’ve brought forth a “flurry of conservative legislation,” according to The New York Times.

It is not clear how the U.S. Supreme Court will treat the 1980 precedent. In recent years the court has consistently supported religious rights. In 2022, the six conservative justices ruled that a football coach in Washington who prayed with his players after games was protected by the First Amendment.

The new law—enacted Wednesday amid rising fears of Christian nationalism and its proponents crafting laws across the United States—sparked anger and mockery on social media.

“Apparently Louisiana has enough surplus budget money to defend ridiculous laws?,” X user Patti Ringo wrote on the platform.

“The regression of America continues,” another X user, David Poland, wrote. “How long will women and people of color be trusted with the vote?”

Even Christian groups have come out against the law. In late May, a group of more than 100 pastors and churchgoers sent Landry an open letter calling for him to veto the bill, arguing that it was not the place of the government to control religious education and that the law “disrespects religious diversity.”

The group also criticized the authors of the law, which mandates exact wording of the commandments, for choosing an official version of the Ten Commandments, when different faith traditions have different versions and interpretations.

“To me that is a clear case of the government saying this religion is more important than the others,” Rev. Jon Parks, senior co-pastor at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge and a signer of the open letter, told The Advocate, a Louisiana newspaper. “There are places where the Ten Commandments belong—and the classroom is not it.”

Separation of church and state? New Louisiana law mandates 10 Commandments in public classrooms

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