Louisiana Classrooms To Display the Ten Commandments

Jun 20, 2024

Louisiana has become the first state to require all its public school classrooms to display the Ten Commandments. Gov. Jeff Landry signed House Bill 71 into law yesterday which directs all public classrooms from kindergarten to state-funded colleges and universities to post the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” on a poster or framed document. The law states the purpose of these displays is to educate the public on “historically significant documents” that shaped both “American and Louisiana law.” 

The Louisiana Senate and House overwhelmingly passed the measure by a vote of 30-8 and 82-19, respectively. According to the bill, the displays must be paid for through donations – not state funds – and must be in classrooms by January 1, 2025. The law also requires each display to be paired with a four-paragraph “context statement” describing the history of the Ten Commandments and how they “were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries.” 

According to the law’s language, displaying the Ten Commandments recognizes “the historical role of the Ten Commandments” played in the founding of the United States and that a “functional self-government” needs a common “civic morality” by which to govern itself.

The law quoted the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, who stated how the Founders “staked the whole future” of the country on the people’s capacity to “govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”

The law reads, “Including the Ten Commandments in the education of our children is part of our state and national history, culture, and tradition.”

The measure also allows, but does not require, schools to display the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. 

“The Mayflower Compact of 1620 was America's first written constitution and made a Covenant with Almighty God to ‘form a civil body politic.’ This was the first purely American document of self-government and affirmed the link between civil society and God,” the law stated. 

Regarding the Northwest Ordinance, the law noted its purpose directly relates to schools. While the Ordinance advanced “civil and religious liberty” westward to American territories, it “forever” encourages schools to include “religion, morality, and knowledge” as precursors to “good government and the happiness of mankind.” 

“It is the Legislature’s intent…to continue the rich tradition and ensure that the students in our public schools may understand and appreciate the foundational documents of our state and national government,” stated the law. 

While opponents of the law indicate they will challenge its constitutionality based on the Establishment Clause, the law’s text invokes two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in favor of displaying religious texts on government property. In Van Orden v. Perry in 2005, the High Court upheld a Ten Commandments monument on state capitol grounds in Texas. Liberty Counsel filed amicus briefs in Van Orden v. Perry in the lower trial and appellate courts supporting the Ten Commandments as a “universally recognized symbol of law.” In 2019, the High Court recognized in American Legion v. American Humanists Association that the Ten Commandments “have historical significance as one of the foundations of our legal system” and represents a “common cultural heritage.” 

Other U.S. Supreme Court cases would also seem to weaken any challenges to Louisiana’s new law. In Liberty Counsel’s 9-0 victory in Shurtleff v. City of Boston, SCOTUS unanimously rejected the City of Boston’s use of the “Lemon Test” to censor religious viewpoints – namely a Christian flag on a public flagpole. The “Lemon Test” had been used by Courts for decades to interpret government overreach into religion and remove religious displays from government buildings. Then in June 2022, SCOTUS finally eliminated the “Lemon Test” in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District instructing that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by “reference to historical practices and understandings.” 

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Ten Commandments have shaped American law and government. There are about 50 displays of the Ten Commandments inside and outside the U.S. Supreme Court. The official seal of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals contains the Ten Commandments. They have made an indelible impact on American law and government.” 

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