Louisiana Mandates Ten Commandments in Public Schools, Sparking Legal Battle

Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom, a move driven by a Republican-dominated Legislature and newly elected Governor Jeff Landry. The legislation, signed into law on Wednesday, mandates that a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” be placed in all public classrooms, from kindergarten through state-funded universities. These posters, accompanied by a four-paragraph context statement, must be in place by the start of 2025.

Details of the Law
The new law specifies that the Ten Commandments are to be displayed alongside a statement highlighting their historical significance in American public education. The posters will not be funded by the state; instead, they will rely on donations. Additionally, the law allows, but does not require, the display of other historical documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Northwest Ordinance.

Legal and Constitutional Concerns
Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argue that the law violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government endorsement of religion. These groups have pledged to challenge the law in court, asserting that it imposes a specific religious doctrine on students and infringes on their rights to an equal education.

“Politicians have no business imposing their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools,” the civil liberties groups said in a joint statement. They further noted that different religious denominations may have varying versions of the Ten Commandments, complicating the issue.

Historical Context and Precedents
This law rekindles long-standing debates about the separation of church and state. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar Kentucky law was unconstitutional, finding that it served a religious purpose rather than a secular one. Despite this precedent, similar bills have been proposed in states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah, though none have successfully passed into law.

Governor Landry, referencing the biblical prophet Moses during the bill signing, stated, “If you want to respect the rule of law, you’ve got to start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses.” This reflects the broader conservative agenda currently being pursued in Louisiana under Landry’s leadership, which also includes other education-related laws.

Broader Implications
The mandate has sparked a renewed debate over the appropriateness of religious symbols in public schools and the broader implications for church-state separation in the U.S. As Louisiana becomes the only state to enforce such a requirement, the outcome of the impending legal battles will likely influence similar legislative efforts in other states.

In addition to the Ten Commandments law, Governor Landry signed other education-related bills, including one restricting discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools. These actions collectively represent a significant shift towards conservative policies in Louisiana’s education system.

The passage of this law marks a significant moment in the ongoing debate over religious displays in public schools. With legal challenges imminent, the resolution of this issue will have important implications for the interpretation of constitutional principles and the future of similar legislative efforts across the country.