In a significant legal showdown, civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit on Monday (June 24) to halt Louisiana’s newly enacted law that mandates the display of the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom. The law, signed by Republican Governor Jeff Landry, has sparked a heated debate over its constitutionality.

The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the New York City law firm Simpson, Thatcher & Bartlett, include parents of public-school children from various religious backgrounds.

Religious favouritism

“This display sends a message to my children and other students that people of some religious denominations are superior to others,” said Rev. Jeff Simms, a Presbyterian pastor and father of three public-school children in Louisiana. “This is religious favouritism.”

Critics argue that the law violates the separation of church and state, potentially alienating students who are not Christian.

Joshua Herlands, another plaintiff with two young children in New Orleans public schools, expressed concern over the law’s implications. As a Jewish father, Herlands pointed out that the mandated version of the Ten Commandments does not align with his faith’s interpretation. “Politicians have absolutely no business forcing their religious beliefs on my kids or any kids, or attempting to indoctrinate them with what they think is the right version of a particular piece of religious text,” he said.

The lawsuit seeks a court declaration that the law, referred to as HB 71 (House Bill 71), violates First Amendment clauses prohibiting government establishment of religion and guaranteeing religious liberty. Additionally, it calls for an order to prevent the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms.

Civil liberties groups

“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 lawsuit contends. Representative Dodie Horton, the law’s primary sponsor, emphasized during the legislative debate that the bill aims to display “God’s law” for children to understand right and wrong.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley, members of the state education board, and some local school boards.

Legal experts believe this case could reach the Supreme Court, testing its current conservative majority. However, Patrick Elliott, legal director for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, expressed confidence in existing precedents. “We think this is already covered by clear Supreme Court precedent,” Elliott said. “We think under current law that we will prevail and it would not be necessary for the Supreme Court to review it.”

This legal battle unfolds during a new era of conservative governance in Louisiana, with the GOP holding a supermajority in the legislature and every statewide elected position. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John deGravelles, an Obama-era appointee.


Lawsuit challenges Louisiana law requiring Ten Commandments classroom display

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