Ten Commandments displayed in public schools: Is Louisiana right?

Brad Bowie / AP

Fact Box

  • The Ten Commandments are the first laws God gave to Moses in Exodus 20:1-17 to instruct the Israelites after their release from slavery in Egypt. The commands include “you shall not murder,” “you shall not steal,” and “you shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” establishing the protection of life, property, and due process. 
  • On June 19, 2024, Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry signed legislation that requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments to be present in public schools, K-college. The law’s stated purpose is to “educate and inform the public as to the history and background of American and Louisiana law.” It will be donation-funded and presented alongside other historically significant documents: the Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, and Northwest Ordinance.
  • The First Amendment of the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” otherwise known as the “Establishment Clause.”
  • Proponents argue that the intent is not religious, as these are 'foundational documents of our state and national government.' The ACLU, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State argue it’s ‘unconstitutional,’ and filed a lawsuit against it on June 24.

Joanna (No)

Louisiana has a laundry list of issues their all-Republican legislature could have chosen to address: its rising crime, ranking it as one of the most dangerous states in the nation, its increased industrial pollution causing health issues, its over-incarceration rate, its second-highest nationwide poverty rate, and more. Instead, the Governor is seemingly choosing to generate another culture war, even proclaiming, “I can’t wait to be sued.” Civil liberties groups answered the call, filing a lawsuit mere days after the signing of the legislature. 

Leading the charge against this serious violation of American freedoms, they see this as another example of Christian nationalism, imposing one religious view onto a “captive audience”—school-aged youths grade-wide. They say this Louisiana law clearly violates the establishment clause found in the First Amendment of the Constitution, along with the doctrine of separation of church and state. And they have historical precedent on their side. 

The Supreme Court already ruled in Stone v. Graham in 1980 that displaying the Ten Commandments in Kentucky public school classrooms was unconstitutional since it lacked a “secular legislative purpose.” Opponents hope SCOTUS will rule rightfully again seeing as this issue could again find itself before the highest court. It’s worth fighting as enforcing such a law disrespects other faiths and beliefs. Displaying this biblical text means that schools would have to display things from other religions as well, such as excerpts from other holy books or incorporating other religious iconography into study. 

All of this is a waste of time and resources, as students should focus on the main curriculum and improve their abysmally low test scores. Politicians should focus on lifting students up, not forcing their preferred religious doctrine on them.  

Rob (Yes)

Louisiana requiring the display of the Ten Commandments in school is a positive step for the state and the country as a whole. This law honors the founding fathers and aims to restore America to her original values of morality and godliness on which the founders based American society and law. They built a nation rooted in a Christian-Judeo moral and religious foundation, specifically the Ten Commandments. 

James Madison famously once said, 'We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.' Likewise, John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.” They understood the historical and spiritual value of these original laws that produced Western civilization.

The law itself does not explicitly establish Judaism or Christianity as the official state religion, which was the original meaning of the ‘Establishment Clause.’ Our nation’s founding principles and symbols prove the fact that America was founded on religious precepts, but opponents believe the idea of ‘separation of church and state’ was enshrined in our founding documents. It was not. Rather, this concept reinforces how government cannot infringe on one’s religious practices, not that religion cannot be present in public spaces. 

In 2019, SCOTUS acknowledged the importance of the Ten Commandments in the formation of the American legal system. Laws, such as those prohibiting murder and theft, are based on these commandments. The Bible is even foundational to the concept of human rights. Instead of battling this, students should be taught about the historical relevance of the Ten Commandments in shaping the West and America’s moral and legal systems.

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