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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Civil liberties groups sue over new Louisiana law that requires Ten Commandments to be posted in schools

Plaintiffs say the Ten Commandments have no place in school.

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) — A group of individuals, including religious leaders, teachers and parents whose children are in Louisiana public schools filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to stop the state from enforcing a new policy that would require classrooms statewide to prominently display the Ten Commandments in schools.

The plaintiffs, who are represented by several civil liberties groups, are asking the Western District of Louisiana to declare the law is unconstitutional and block it before it takes effect Jan. 1, 2025.  

With this new law, Louisiana became the first state in the nation to require mixing religion with public education.

Civil liberties groups warn the law could set a dangerous precedent for Christian Nationalism and called this issue the “civil rights movement of our generation.”

Last week, Republican Governor Jeff Landry signed the law requiring all public K-12 classrooms and state-funded universities to prominently display the Ten Commandments on poster-sized boards in their classrooms in a “large, easily readable font.”

In the lawsuit filed Monday, the plaintiffs say requiring schools to post the 10 Commandments is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Students have the right to not be forced into any religion in their school and only parents should choose which beliefs their children will be exposed to, the plaintiffs say.

“Upwards of 680,000 students are enrolled in more than 1,300 public elementary and secondary schools across the state,” the plaintiffs say in the lawsuit.

Under the bill, the plaintiffs warn in the lawsuit, “all of these students will be forcibly subjected to scriptural dictates, day in and day out.”

“The state’s main interest in passing H.B. 71 was to impose religious beliefs on public-school children, regardless of the harm to students and families,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint.  

The plaintiffs say the law runs counter to a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Kentucky law, which required the Ten Commandments to be posted in schools.

“This new law doesn’t just interfere with my and my children’s religious freedom, it tramples on it,” plaintiff Jeff Simms, a Presbyterian minister who has children in Louisiana public schools, said during a press conference Monday.

“The separation of church and state means that families get to decide if, when and how their children should be introduced to religious Scripture and texts, not the state,” Simms added.

But those who support the law say there is educational value in the Ten Commandments as a historical document and argue that the rules will be of moral value to students.

The plaintiffs, meanwhile, are firm in their assertion that the aim of the law was to impose religious beliefs on public school children.

“The law’s primary sponsor and author, Representative Dodie Horton, proclaimed during debate over the bill that it 'seeks to have a display of God’s law in the classroom for children to see what He says is right and what He says is wrong.’”

Some faith leaders and parents say they disagree with the version of the Ten Commandments being put into schools under the new law, saying that different religious groups interpret the text differently.

Simms, the Presbyterian minister, said Monday that “the state’s approved version of the Ten Commandments treats some people as chattel — it includes wives with cattle as property.”

Simms was adamant that he does not want his kids to be indoctrinated with such texts.

“My children are legally required to attend school, and they are there to learn math, science and the arts, but they are not there to be evangelized," he said.

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said during the press conference Monday that Christian Nationalism isn't the same as Christianity.

“White Christian Nationalism is a political ideology rooted in the belief that America was created for European Christians, and that our laws must codify, reflect and perpetuate this privilege," she said.

"Christian Nationalism is a threat to a united and diverse America where every person enjoys freedom and equality, regardless of religion, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. And Christian Nationalism is a fundamental threat to our democracy," she added.

The plaintiffs, all of whom have children in the Louisiana public school system, identify as Jewish, Christian, Unitarian Universalist and non-religious.

They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is serving as pro bono counsel for the plaintiffs.

In a statement to the Baton Rouge Advocate Monday afternoon, Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill said her office had not seen the lawsuit so could not comment on it. But she told the newspaper the ACLU was “selectively” defending the First Amendment.

The group “doesn’t care when the Biden administration censors speech or arrests pro-life protestors,” Murrill said. “But apparently if will fight to prevent posters that discuss our own legal history.”

Members of the civil liberties group said Monday they hope to be in court in Baton Rouge as soon as possible to clear up the issue before school begins in the fall.

Follow @SabrinaCanfiel2
Categories / Civil Rights, Courts, Education, National, Politics, Religion

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