Louisiana Governor Signs Law Requiring Display of Ten Commandments in Public Classrooms

Louisiana Governor Signs Law Requiring Display of Ten Commandments in Public Classrooms

Editorial credit: NECHAMA VID / Shutterstock.com

By Janet Howard

In a move that has stirred controversy and set Louisiana apart from all other states in the nation, Louisiana’s Republican Governor Jeff Landry has signed into law a measure that mandates the display of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. This legislation, effective immediately, has ignited a fierce debate across political and religious spectrums.

The new law, which conservative Christian groups pushed through, marks a significant victory for those advocating for more explicit religious symbols in public spaces. Supporters argue that displaying the Ten Commandments, which include commandments such as ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ and ‘You shall not murder ‘, promotes moral values and respects the historical foundation of American law. The measure requires all schools to display the text exactly as written in the bill and in ‘a poster or framed document that is at least eleven inches by fourteen inches’ – at a minimum – and ‘in a large, easily readable font.’

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“This is about reaffirming our Judeo-Christian heritage and ensuring that our children understand the principles upon which our nation was built,” Governor Landry said during the signing ceremony. It’s not about imposing religious beliefs but acknowledging our shared history and values.”

However, critics, including civil rights organizations and advocates for the separation of church and state, contend that the law violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from endorsing or promoting a specific religion. They argue that such displays could make non-Christian students or those of different faiths feel excluded or marginalized, potentially impacting their educational experience and sense of belonging in public schools.

The Governor is ready and looking for a legal battle. During a recent GOP fundraiser in Tennessee, he said, “I can’t wait to be sued.”

The ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation are now preparing to sue the Landry administration. “The law violates the separation of church and state and is blatantly unconstitutional,” they said in a joint statement on Wednesday. “The First Amendment promises that we all get to decide for ourselves what religious beliefs, if any, to hold and practice, without pressure from the government. Politicians have no business imposing their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools.”

Louisiana’s unique position as the only state with a statutory requirement to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms is seen by many as a deliberate strategy to provoke legal challenges that could ultimately lead to a Supreme Court ruling. Similar laws in other states, such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah, have faced legal challenges. Nevertheless, despite the looming threat of legal challenges questioning the constitutionality of such measures, Louisiana stands as the sole state where bills of this nature have successfully passed into law.

Legal disputes regarding the display of the Ten Commandments in classrooms have a longstanding history. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a comparable Kentucky law unconstitutional, citing a violation of the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution. This clause prohibits Congress from making any law that favors the establishment of religion. The Court determined that the law lacked a secular purpose and instead clearly served a religious agenda.

Legal experts are anticipating that lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s law will likely be filed in the coming months. The outcome of these cases could potentially have significant implications for interpreting religious freedom and the separation of church and state under the Constitution.

As Louisiana prepares to implement the new mandate, school districts are left grappling with the practical and legal implications of displaying religious texts in public educational settings. The debate over the role of religion in public life in America continues to be a contentious and evolving issue.

This article is based on recent developments and reflects ongoing discussions regarding the intersection of law, religion, and public education in Louisiana.

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