Louisiana public schools to display Ten Commandments in classrooms after controversial law passes

Getty Images - STOCK

(BATON ROUGE, La.) -- Louisiana public schools and colleges will be required to post an image of the Ten Commandments next year after a controversial bill was signed into law Wednesday.

Under H.B. 71 public classrooms starting from kindergarten to the collegiate level must have a poster of the Commandments up at the start of 2025.

Civil rights groups have already questioned the law that passed in Louisiana's Republican-controlled state legislature on May 28, contending it violates the separation of church and state in public buildings. The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to sue.

The bill was signed by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, along with a package of others he said were designed to "expand faith in public schools."

"If you want to respect the rule of law, you've got to start from the original law-giver, which was Moses," Landry said at a news conference where he signed the bill.

The bill's authors contend that the measure is not solely religious, but that it has historical significance. No other state currently has such a mandate for display of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are described in the law's text as "foundational documents of our state and national government."

"History records that James Madison, the fourth President of the United States of America, stated that "(w)e have staked the whole future of our new nation ... upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments," the text of the law read.

The displays, which will be paid for by private donations and not state dollars, will be "displayed on a poster or framed document," the law says. The legislation's text also calls for it to be printed in large, easily readable font.

The displays will also be paired with a four-paragraph "context statement" describing how the Ten Commandments "were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries."

The Louisiana ACLU, however, contended that the law's language is blatantly unconstitutional and said in a statement it plans to sue the state.

The ACLU cited the 1980, U.S. Supreme Court decision Stone v. Graham, which ruled that a similar law passed in Kentucky for its public school system violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"The displays mandated by H.B. 71 will result in unconstitutional religious coercion of students, who are legally required to attend school and are thus a captive audience for school-sponsored religious messages," the Louisiana ACLU said in a statement.

"They will also send a chilling message to students and families who do not follow the state’s preferred version of the Ten Commandments that they do not belong, and are not welcome, in our public schools," the ACLU of Louisiana added.

Landry's education package also includes laws that would authorize the hiring of chaplains in schools, restrict teachers from mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity, and prevent schools from using a transgender student's preferred name or pronouns unless granted permission by parents.

Thursday, June 20, 2024 at 12:55AM by Ivan Pereira, ABC News Permalink