Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Civil Liberties Groups Will File Lawsuit Against Louisiana Law Requiring Public Schools to Display the Ten Commandments

by BPT Staff
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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 announced today that they will file suit to challenge a new Louisiana law that requires all public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom.

Signed into law earlier today by Gov. Jeff Landry, H.B. 71 requires schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom on “a poster or framed document that is at least eleven inches by fourteen inches.” The Commandments must be the “central focus” of the display and “printed in a large, easily readable font.” The bill also requires that a specific version of the Ten Commandments, which has been dictated by the state legislature, be used for every display. Displays that depart from this state-sanctioned version of scripture would violate Louisiana law.

The law violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent and the First Amendment. More than 40 years ago, in Stone v. Graham, the Supreme Court overturned a similar state statute, holding that the First Amendment bars public schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. No other state requires the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public schools.

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. 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.

In response to the passage of H.B. 71, the groups intending to challenge the law issued the following joint statement:

We are preparing a lawsuit to challenge H.B. 71. The law violates the separation of church and state and is blatantly unconstitutional. 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. 

Louisiana’s communities and public schools are religiously diverse, yet H.B. 71 would require school officials to promote specific religious beliefs to which people of many faiths, and those of no faith, do not subscribe. Even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition. 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.

All students should feel safe and welcome in our public schools. 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.

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