Legal battle looms as Louisiana mandates Ten Commandments in classrooms

Republican Governor Jeff Landry signed House Bill 71 into law, mandating that the Ten Commandments be displayed in "large, easily readable font" in public classrooms by the start of 2025.

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Louisiana has enacted a controversial law requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to university level, sparking immediate backlash and promises of legal challenges from rights groups.

Republican Governor Jeff Landry signed House Bill 71 into law, mandating that the Ten Commandments be displayed in “large, easily readable font” in public classrooms by the start of 2025. The law includes a “context statement” declaring the Ten Commandments as foundational to American government and history. Schools are also given the option to display the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, or the Northwest Ordinance.

The national and state ACLU, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State condemned the law as “blatantly unconstitutional.” They argue that it violates the separation of church and state and disrespects the religious diversity of Louisiana schools. Their joint statement emphasized, “Our public schools are not Sunday schools, and students of all faiths, or no faith, should feel welcome in them.”

This law comes decades after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Kentucky in 1980, citing the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” However, recent Supreme Court rulings, such as the 2022 decision protecting a football coach who prayed with his players, suggest a shift towards supporting religious rights.

Governor Landry’s signing of the bill aligns with his broader conservative agenda, following the tenure of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who had blocked similar initiatives. The rise of Christian nationalism and conservative legislation across the U.S. is evident, with similar bills proposed in Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah.

The law has drawn criticism and mockery on social media. One user, Patti Ringo, questioned, “Apparently Louisiana has enough surplus budget money to defend ridiculous laws?” Another user, David Poland, commented, “The regression of America continues. How long will women and people of color be trusted with the vote?”

Interestingly, some Christian groups have also opposed the law. Over 100 pastors and churchgoers sent an open letter to Governor Landry, urging him to veto the bill. They argued that government should not control religious education and that the law disrespects religious diversity. Rev. Jon Parks, senior co-pastor at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, stated, “There are places where the Ten Commandments belong—and the classroom is not it.”

As legal battles loom, the debate over the role of religion in public education intensifies. The law’s passage highlights the broader national discourse on religious freedom, government overreach, and the separation of church and state. The coming months will likely see significant legal challenges and public debate as rights groups and individuals push back against what they see as an unconstitutional mandate.

The ACLU and other rights organizations argue that the law violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ensures that the government cannot establish a religion. By mandating the display of a religious text in public schools, they argue, the Louisiana government is overstepping its bounds and infringing on the rights of students and teachers of different faiths or no faith at all.

Legal experts anticipate that the case will make its way through the courts, potentially reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the Court’s recent rulings favoring religious expression, the outcome is uncertain. However, opponents of the law remain steadfast in their belief that it is an overreach that must be challenged.

Governor Landry, in defending the bill, has framed it as an educational tool rather than a religious imposition. “The Ten Commandments have historical significance and have influenced our legal system and societal values,” Landry stated. “This law is about educating our children on the foundational documents of our state and nation.”

Critics, however, are not convinced. They argue that the historical context does not justify the mandatory display of a religious text in public schools. “There are many ways to teach history without endorsing a particular religious viewpoint,” said Andrew Seidel, an attorney with the Freedom from Religion Foundation. “This law is a thinly veiled attempt to promote a specific religious agenda.”

The law’s requirement for a “context statement” that links the Ten Commandments to American history has also been met with skepticism. Critics argue that this statement is an attempt to circumvent legal challenges by framing the display as educational rather than religious. However, they point out that the Supreme Court has previously rejected similar arguments, most notably in the 1980 case of Stone v. Graham, which struck down a Kentucky law requiring the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools.

As the legal battles unfold, the impact of the law on Louisiana’s public schools remains to be seen. Educators and administrators are left to navigate the complex terrain of complying with the law while respecting the diverse beliefs of their students and staff.

Rev. Jon Parks and other religious leaders who oppose the law emphasize the importance of maintaining the separation of church and state to ensure that public schools remain inclusive and welcoming to all students. “This law sends the wrong message to our children,” Parks said. “It tells them that one religion is more important than others, which is not the message we should be sending in a pluralistic society.”

The debate over House Bill 71 is far from over, and its implications will likely be felt beyond Louisiana’s borders. As other states consider similar legislation, the outcome of the legal challenges to this law could set a significant precedent for the role of religion in public education across the United States.

In the words of the joint statement from the ACLU and other rights groups, “Our public schools should be places where all children can learn and grow, free from coercion or discrimination. This law undermines that fundamental principle, and we are committed to challenging it in the courts.”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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