Louisiana's Ten Commandments requirement in school classrooms spurs talk of legal battles

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(BATON ROUGE, La.) -- Several civil liberties groups say they are poised for a legal battle over Louisiana's new law requiring all public school classrooms to display the Ten Commandments one day after the law was signed by Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry.

The groups – including The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation – said Wednesday that they plan to challenge the law in court.

The groups say the law violates the separation of church and state in public buildings and would impact students’ education and safety, according to an ACLU statement.

“The government should not be taking sides in this theological debate, and it certainly should not be coercing students to submit day in and day out to unavoidable promotions of religious doctrine,” the ACLU wrote.

HB 71 mandates public schools -- from kindergarten to the collegiate level -- to display the Ten Commandments, a religious set of rules from the Old Testament, in every classroom on “a poster or framed document that is at least 11 inches by 14 inches.”

“If you want to respect the rule of law, you gotta start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses," said Landry Wednesday during the press conference where he signed the bills.

The bill also outlined a specific version of the Ten Commandments to be used for the display.

Public schools have until January 2025 to display the poster, which will be paid for by private donations and not state dollars, according to the law. The law does not state what would happen if a school does not comply with the order.

The bill is one of 18 signed by Landry as part of his “Dream Big” education plan that aims to “bring back common sense in our classrooms,” he said in a Wednesday statement.

Supporters of HB 71 argue that the law isn’t about religion: “This is not preaching a Christian religion. It’s not preaching any religion. It’s teaching a moral code,” Republican state Rep. Dodie Horton said during an April hearing, according to local news outlet WWL-TV.

The law argues that the Ten Commandments are also historically significant, reflecting "the understanding of the founders of our nation with respect to the necessity of civic morality to a functional self-government," the text reads.

Opponents of the bill believe this is a violation of the First Amendment.

The ACLU pointed to the 1980 Supreme Court case Stone v. Graham, which found that Kentucky’s then-law requiring the Ten Commandments be posted in classrooms "had no secular legislative purpose" and was "plainly religious in nature,” the decision read.

“All students should feel safe and welcome in our public schools,” the ACLU said in a statement.

The statement continued, “H.B. 71 would undermine this critical goal and prevent schools from providing an equal education to all students, regardless of faith. We will not allow Louisiana lawmakers to undermine these religious-freedom rights.”

Friday, June 21, 2024 at 1:05AM by Jennifer Vilcarino and Kiara Alfonseca, ABC News Permalink