New Law Requiring Ten Commandments to Be Posted in Louisiana Classrooms Spurs Lawsuits

Paul Weber/AP via Washington Post Photo Source: Paul Weber/AP via Washington Post

A controversial new Louisiana law has prompted several civil liberties groups to join forces with plans to file a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality.

House Bill 71 was signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry and will now require all public school classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities, to display the Ten Commandments, making Lousiana the first state to have such a law on the books.

The legislation details that the religious testament must be displayed on a poster that is at least “eleven inches by fourteen inches” and displays "large, easily readable font." Before signing the new law, Gov. Landry seemingly recognized his administration's efforts to test the limits of religious freedom, announcing at a Republican fundraiser last week, “I can’t wait to be sued.”

Civil rights groups including the ACLU of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation moved swiftly to challenge the new law, announcing that they would be filing a lawsuit.

In a joint statement, the organizations made their opinions clear. “The law violates the separation of church and state and is blatantly unconstitutional.” The statement goes on, “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.”

The new law will challenge the precedent set in 1980 during the Kentucky case of Stone v. Graham. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in a public school setting is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The clause protects an individual’s freedom of religion and reiterates the First Amendment principles that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Despite what the ACLU and others say is a clear violation of constitutional protection, republicans have been quick to defend the new law. Republican leaders have stressed that the new bill is not meant to be looked at from a religious lens, but from a historical one as the Ten Commandments are "foundational documents of our state and national government." Upon signing the law, Gov. Landry shared, “If you want to respect the rule of law, you’ve got to start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses.”

The law details that state funding will not be used to implement the posters and that donations will be used to fund the new initiative.

Louisiana is not the only state gunning to have the Ten Commandments posted in public school classrooms. Other states including Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah have also proposed similar legislation. These states will undoubtedly be watching how the Louisnia case will unfold to determine their next steps.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate from James Madison University, where she studied English and Education. Residing in Central Virginia with her husband and two young daughters, she balances her workaholic tendencies with a passion for travel, exploring the world with her family.
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