Louisiana could become first state to require display of Ten Commandments in classrooms

Schools in Louisiana could soon be required by law to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom.

The state House of Representatives gave final passage to House Bill 71 on Tuesday in a 79-16 vote, sending it to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry’s desk. Only Democrats voted against the legislation.

If the governor signs it into law, every Louisiana classroom — from kindergarten through university level — at schools that receive state funding would be required to display “on a poster or framed document that is at least eleven inches by fourteen inches. The text of the Ten Commandments shall be the central focus of the poster or framed document and shall be printed in a large, easily readable font,” according to the text of the bill.

HB 71 also specifies the exact language that must be printed on the classroom displays.

Republican state Rep. Dodie Horton has said the Ten Commandments are rooted in legal history and her bill would place a “moral code” in the classroom. She dismissed concerns from Democrats and other opponents that a state requiring a religious text in all classrooms would violate the establishment clause of the US Constitution, which says Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

In defending the bill, supporters leaned on the 2022 US Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which gave a high school football coach his job back after he was disciplined over a controversy involving prayer on the field. The Supreme Court ruled that the coach’s prayers amounted to private speech, protected by the First Amendment, and could not be restricted by the school district. The decision lowered the bar between church and state in an opinion that legal experts predicted would allow more religious expression in public spaces. At the time, the court clarified that a government entity does not necessarily violate the establishment clause by permitting religious expression in public.

If signed into law, legal challenges are expected to quickly follow. CNN has inquired with Landry’s office as to whether he plans to sign.

In a joint statement, 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 said they were “deeply concerned” by the legislation.

“This bill is unconstitutional. The state may not require public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms. Many faith-based and civil-rights organizations oppose this measure because it violates students’ and families’ fundamental right to religious freedom,” the statement reads. “We are closely monitoring this situation and urge Louisianans to let the governor know that he should veto this bill. Politicians should not be forcing religious scripture on students. Our public schools are not Sunday schools, and students of all faiths—or no faith—should feel welcome in them.”

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