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Louisiana parents challenge law requiring schools, colleges to post Ten Commandments

3 weeks 1 hour 20 minutes ago Monday, June 24 2024 Jun 24, 2024 June 24, 2024 1:31 PM June 24, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE — Members of nine families who have 16 children in Louisiana public schools filed a lawsuit Monday challenging a new state law that requires the posting of the Ten Commandments in every classroom.

Louisiana last week became the first state since Kentucky in 1978 to require that all public schools have the Judeo-Christian tenets displayed in every classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law in 1980.

"Upwards of 680,000 students are enrolled in more than 1,300 public elementary and secondary schools across the state," according to the lawsuit in the Middle District of Louisiana at Baton Rouge. "These children and their families adhere to an array of faiths, and many do not practice any religion at all."

Catholics, Jews and Protestants have different versions of the Ten Commandments, which Moses presented to Israel in the book of Exodus. By Jan. 1, schools and universities will have to display a version that hews closely to the Protestant version.

"It sends a dangerous and harmful message to children and the community, that anyone who does not believe in the state’s preferred scripture does not belong," said Heather Weaver, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's program on Freedom of Religion & Belief.

Jeff Sims, a Presbyterian minister from St. Tammany Parish, said the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

"My children are legally required to attend schools and are there to learn math, English, science, art and so much more, but not to be evangelized by the state into its chosen religion," Sims said. "This display also sends a message to my children and other students that people of some religious denominations are superior to others."

Gov. Jeff Landry said when he signed the bill that he would welcome a court challenge. His office did not reply to a request for comment Monday. The attorney general's office issued a statement attempting to draw President Joe Biden into the fray.

The Louisiana parents, four of whom are listed as "Reverend," are backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The lawsuit says posting the Ten Commandments in every school and college classroom makes them unavoidable and "unconstitutionally pressures students into religious observance, veneration, and adoption of the state's favored religious scripture."

Since the bill was passed, several other religious groups have suggested that the basis of their moral codes also be considered for display in Louisiana classrooms.

Kentucky approved a Ten Commandments law in 1978 and required districts to raise money for the displays from private donors. Even without spending state money, the Supreme Court said Kentucky's law was an unconstitutional attempt to establish a religion for people to follow. 

Louisiana's law says districts don't have to pay for the displays themselves, but should either take donations of cash or let someone donate displays directly.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State said it feared the Louisiana law is an attempt to promote Christian nationalism, or the notion that America was created for European Christians and that its laws must perpetuate "this privilege."

Patrick Elliott, the legal director of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said that even with conservatives holding a majority of positions on the U.S. Supreme Court, there was sufficient precedent for courts to strike down the Louisiana law.

"There is extreme concern about coercive religious practices on children," Elliott said.

Attorney General Liz Murrill said she hadn't seen the lawsuit and, even after being provided with a copy, stood by her initial statement: "We cannot comment on a lawsuit we haven’t seen. It seems the ACLU only selectively cares about the First Amendment - it doesn’t care when the Biden administration censors speech or arrests pro-life protesters, but apparently it will fight to prevent posters that discuss our own legal history.”

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