Louisiana Mandates Display of Ten Commandments in Public Schools

In a groundbreaking move, Louisiana has become the first state in the U.S. to mandate the display of the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom. This decision was made official when Republican Governor Jeff Landry signed a bill put forth by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature. The law stipulates that by the start of 2025, all public school classrooms must exhibit the Ten Commandments on a poster or framed document measuring at least eleven by fourteen inches. The text of the Ten Commandments should be the primary focus of the display and should be printed in a large, easily readable font.

Governor Landry, while signing the bill, emphasized the importance of acknowledging the original law giver, Moses, in order to respect the rule of law. The law also includes a “context statement” which highlights the significance of the Ten Commandments in the religious history of America and Louisiana’s legal system. This statement places the Ten Commandments alongside other pivotal documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance, and the Constitution.

The state legislature hopes that the study of these documents and their relation to each other and the history of the state and nation will foster an appreciation for the role that religion has played in the legal history of America and Louisiana. The legislature further stated that American law, constitutionalism, and political theory have deep roots in religion, and the Ten Commandments was one of the earliest written expressions of law to be incorporated in American legal systems.

However, this new law has raised constitutional concerns similar to those seen in Texas, where a similar statute was attempted. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from establishing or endorsing an official American religion. Any legislation involving religion must have a legitimate secular or legislative purpose. Whether Louisiana’s stated purpose of educating children about the role of religion in American legal history constitutes a legitimate secular purpose is a matter for the courts to decide.

The Supreme Court has previously addressed the issue of displaying the Ten Commandments in classrooms. In 1980, it struck down a Kentucky statute that required such displays. In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling against Alabama’s former chief justice, Roy Moore, who defied a federal order to dismantle a Ten Commandments monument in the state’s Supreme Court rotunda.

While Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah have also attempted to pass similar legislation, only Louisiana has been successful so far. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have jointly declared the law “blatantly unconstitutional” and announced their intention to challenge it in court.

These groups argue that politicians should not impose their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools. They point out that Louisiana’s public schools are religiously diverse and that even among religious individuals, there is disagreement about the particular text or version of the Ten Commandments. Governor Landry, however, has welcomed legal challenges to the statute, stating at a recent fundraiser, “I can’t wait to be sued.”