Louisiana Families Sue Over Law Requiring Ten Commandments in Schools

Jimmy Williams

Nine Louisiana families have filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s education department and local school boards, challenging a new law that mandates the display of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. The lawsuit was filed just days after Governor Jeff Landry signed the controversial bill into law, making Louisiana the first state to require such displays since the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional over 40 years ago.

The families involved in the lawsuit come from diverse religious backgrounds, including Jewish, Christian, Unitarian Universalist, and nonreligious. They argue that the law violates their First Amendment rights by interfering with their ability to raise their children according to their own religious beliefs. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, claims the law “pressures students into religious observance” and sends a divisive message to those who do not adhere to the Ten Commandments.

“It also sends the harmful and religiously divisive message that students who do not subscribe to the Ten Commandments … do not belong in their own school community,” the complaint states.

Two of the plaintiffs are clergy members: Rev. Darcy Roake, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and Rev. Jeff Simms, a Presbyterian. Simms said, “By favoring one version of the Ten Commandments and mandating that it be posted in public schools, the government is intruding on deeply personal matters of religion.”

Joshua Herlands, another plaintiff, expressed his concerns as “an American and a Jew,” stating that “state lawmakers are forcing public schools to post a specific version of the Ten Commandments in every classroom.”

The lawsuit is supported by several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Attorney Jonathan Youngwood, representing the families pro bono, said they are seeking a hearing this summer to prevent the law from being implemented.

Governor Landry, a conservative Republican, vowed to defend the law, stating, “If you want to respect the rule of law, you’ve got to start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses.”

Landry has the support of former President Donald Trump, who suggested that the entire country should follow Louisiana’s lead in allowing the Ten Commandments in public schools. Additionally, Landry is expected to sign a bill that would prohibit teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation from kindergarten through 12th grade.

State Representative Dodie Horton, who sponsored both bills, defended her actions by emphasizing her commitment to Christian values in education. “I’m not concerned with an atheist. I’m not concerned with a Muslim,” Horton said. “I’m concerned with our children looking and seeing what God’s law is.”

Political strategist James Carville criticized Horton and described her as a “foot soldier for Christian nationalists.” He believes this case could escalate to the Supreme Court, given the current conservative majority.

Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, echoed Carville’s concerns, stating, “Christian Nationalists are seeking to infiltrate our public schools and force everyone to live by their beliefs.”

Legal experts like William Snowden from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law doubt the governor’s ability to defend the law’s benefits for all Louisiana residents, emphasizing that it blurs the lines between church and state.

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