BJC urges Louisiana Governor to veto law requiring public schools and colleges to post Ten Commandments in every classroom

by | Jun 3, 2024

The Ten Commandments carry deep religious significance for many observant Americans. Unfortunately, that has made them ripe for exploitation by those who seek to use the institutions of government to promote a religious perspective. Efforts to post the Ten Commandments on government property like courthouses have been a consistent source of numerous court cases for many years, including several U.S. Supreme Court cases. In recent years, such Christian nationalist campaigns (see “Project Blitz”) have focused their attention on an even more troubling setting: public schools. 

Last month, the Louisiana legislature passed a bill that would require the Ten Commandments to be posted in every public school classroom. The bill allows that the display may also include the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents but does not require them. In response, BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman has written a letter to Governor Jeff Landry asking him to veto the measure, which passed the state senate 30-8. Here is an excerpt from her letter:

Nobody should be told by the government how to worship, what Scripture to read, or when to pray. Government-mandated displays of the Ten Commandments disrespect religious diversity and foster conflict in our public schools. This legislation wrongly suggests that the government holds religious authority over school children.

By sponsoring a religious display that includes the selection of scripture, the government is intervening in religious choices that should be left to individuals and faith communities.

Louisiana pastors and church-goers are also voicing their opposition to their state’s Ten Commandments mandate. As CBFblog reports, more than 100 have signed a letter also asking Landry to reject the bill. They write:

The responsibility of religious education belongs to families, churches and other religious institutions, not the government. Our communities of faith exist to help individuals and families grapple with applying biblical truth in our modern times. We do not need or want legislators and other government officials interfering with and usurping this sacred role.

The campaign to merge religious education with public school education is an especially troubling example of Christian nationalism given the impressionable age of young school children. Adorning our public school hallways and classrooms with religious symbols and texts not only usurps the role of parents and religious leaders, it also violates the religious liberty rights of students under the First Amendment.

As Hollman points out in her letter to the Governor, the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent decision regarding religion in public schools, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (2022), “does not sanction such sponsorship of religion in public schools.”  If enacted, Louisiana’s Ten Commandments law would invite litigation.

For more on the legal issues surrounding Ten Commandment posting, check out a recent episode of BJC’s podcast Respecting Religion in which Hollman and BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler discuss a similar measure proposed and ultimately defeated in Texas.