Louisiana governor ‘can’t wait to be sued’ after forcing the Ten Commandments in classrooms

Louisiana is now the first state in the US to force public schools to post the Ten Commandments

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 19 June 2024 20:24 BST
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Louisiana’s Republican Governor Jeff Landry is looking for a legal fight after mandating the Ten Commandments in every classroom in the state.

“I’m going home to sign a bill that places the Ten Commandments in public classrooms,” he said during a recent GOP fundraiser in Tennessee. “I can’t wait to be sued.”

Landry signed the bill into law on Wednesday, making Louisiana the first state in the US to require all public schools and universities to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

Conservative legal groups have been angling for another shot at reversing Supreme Court rulings protecting the separation of church and state after justices shot down a similar state law in Kentucky more than 30 years ago, on the grounds that the state violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against any laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the public display of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky county courthouses was similarly unconstitutional.

“Our public schools are not Sunday schools, and students of all faiths – or no faith – should feel welcome in them,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a joint statement with other civil rights groups warning against Louisiana’s legislation.

Lousiana Governor Jeff Landry signed legislation on June 19 mandating the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, which is expected to swiftly draw legal challenges.
Lousiana Governor Jeff Landry signed legislation on June 19 mandating the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, which is expected to swiftly draw legal challenges. (AP)

The ACLU and 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. “

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 minimum – and “in a large, easily readable font.”

It also requires a 200-word “context statement” arguing that the Ten Commandments were “a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries” up until 50 years ago.

Last year, Louisiana’s GOP-controlled state legislature passed a similar measure that requires “In God We Trust” displayed in all public school classrooms.

GOP lawmakers in Texas, South Carolina and Utah recently tried to pass similar legislation that would put the Ten Commandments in public classrooms.

That rush of state-level legislation followed the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that loosened interpretations of the First Amendment’s establishment clause to allow a high school football coach to pray with his team on the 50-yard line.

Joseph Kennedy claimed that Washington state’s Bremerton School District violated his religious freedom after staff repeatedly asked him to move his prayer to somewhere less conspicuous, as to avoid the appearance of the school’s endorsement of a religious view.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned that the Supreme Court “continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.”

Workers remove a monument bearing the Ten Commandments outside West Union High School in Ohio in 2003. Louisiana became the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom on June 19.
Workers remove a monument bearing the Ten Commandments outside West Union High School in Ohio in 2003. Louisiana became the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom on June 19. (AP)

A coalition of Christian leaders and church goers in Louisiana said that the state “has no business choosing an official version of the Ten Commandments, especially one that strips the text of its theological context.”

“And the state certainly has no business mandating that this officially sanctioned version of the Ten Commandments be hung in every public school classroom, where teachers educate students who follow a broad array of Christian and non-Christian faith traditions,” they wrote in a letter to Landry last month.

The Independent has requested comment from Governor Landry’s office.

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