Thursday, July 18, 2024

Louisiana’s Ten Commandments Law Sparks Legal Battle

by BIZ Magazine

Baton Rouge, Louisiana— Louisiana is facing a significant legal challenge following the enactment of a new law requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public school classrooms. Signed by Republican Governor Jeff Landry, House Bill 71 mandates that all public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools display the Ten Commandments in a prominent position within classrooms. This legislation, authored by Representative Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, has stirred controversy and prompted lawsuits from several civil liberties groups.

Four organizations—the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation—have announced their intention to file a lawsuit against the state. They argue that the new law violates the First Amendment by promoting specific religious beliefs and undermining religious freedom.

Governor Landry and Legal Opposition

Governor Landry, speaking at a Republican Party fundraiser, expressed his support for the bill and his readiness for the ensuing legal battles, stating, “I can’t wait to be sued.” He signed the bill into law despite the expected legal challenges, emphasizing his belief in the law’s constitutionality.

The ACLU and its allies argue that the law echoes a similar statute overturned by the Supreme Court in the 1980 case Stone v. Graham, which prohibited the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. They contend that H.B. 71 infringes on the religious freedoms of students, who should not be subjected to state-endorsed religious doctrines in a public education setting.

Proponents of the Law

Representative Dodie Horton, the bill’s author, defends the legislation by highlighting the historical significance of the Ten Commandments in American law and education. “The Ten Commandments comprise the very foundation of our laws in America today. They are a vital part of the American creed,” Horton stated. She also emphasized that the law does not allocate public funds for purchasing the displays, allowing schools to accept donations instead. The Louisiana Department of Education is tasked with identifying resources to help schools comply with the law.

Horton further argued that the Kennedy v. Bremerton School District decision in 2022, which allowed a high school coach to pray on the field, sets a precedent that could support the new law. The ruling did not rely on the Lemon test, a standard from the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman used to determine violations of the Establishment Clause, but rather on historical interpretations of the Constitution.

Statements from Civil Liberties Groups

The civil liberties groups opposing the law issued a joint statement condemning H.B. 71 for promoting a specific religious doctrine in public schools. “All students should feel safe and welcome in our public schools,” the statement read. “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.”

Legal Precedent and Future Implications

The groups challenging the law believe it will fail under legal scrutiny, referencing the Supreme Court’s decision in Stone v. Graham. They argue that the law imposes religious coercion on students and infringes on their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit aims to uphold the separation of church and state, ensuring that public schools remain secular institutions where all students, regardless of their religious beliefs, feel included and respected.


Sources:

  • Larose, Greg. “Louisiana will face lawsuit over Ten Commandments school displays.” Louisiana Illuminator, June 19, 2024.
  • ACLU of Louisiana. “Civil Liberties Groups Will File Lawsuit Against Louisiana Law Requiring Public Schools to Display the Ten Commandments.”
  • Statements from Rep. Dodie Horton and Attorney General Liz Murrill.

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