Louisiana classrooms now required by law to display the Ten Commandments

Louisiana public schools are now required to display the Ten Commandments in all classrooms, after Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed the requirement into law Wednesday.

House Bill 71, approved by state lawmakers last month, mandates that a poster-size display of the Ten Commandments with “large, easily readable font” be in every classroom at schools that receive state funding, from kindergarten through the university level.

The legislation specifies the exact language that must be printed on the classroom displays and outlines that the text of the Ten Commandments must be the central focus of the poster or framed document.

Before signing the bill, Landry called it “one of (his) favorites.”

“If you want to respect the rule of law, you gotta start from the original law given which was Moses. … He got his commandments from God,” Landry said.

Opponents of the bill have argued that a state requiring a religious text in all classrooms would violate the establishment clause of the US Constitution, which says that Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Civil liberties groups swiftly vowed to challenge the law – which makes Louisiana the first in the nation to require the Ten Commandments be displayed in every classroom that receives state funding – in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said that the law violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent and the First Amendment and would result in “unconstitutional religious coercion of students.”

“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 groups said in a joint statement.

Supporters of the law, in defending the measure, have leaned on the 2022 US Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which gave a high school football coach his job back after he was disciplined over a controversy involving prayer on the field. The Supreme Court ruled that the coach’s prayers amounted to private speech, protected by the First Amendment, and could not be restricted by the school district.

The decision lowered the bar between church and state in an opinion that legal experts predicted would allow more religious expression in public spaces. At the time, the court clarified that a government entity does not necessarily violate the establishment clause by permitting religious expression in public.

Louisiana state Rep. Dodie Horton, the Republican author of the bill, said at the bill signing that “it’s like hope is in the air everywhere.” Horton has dismissed concerns from Democratic opponents of the measure, saying the Ten Commandments are rooted in legal history and her bill would place a “moral code” in the classroom.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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