A new law will require a copy of the Ten Commandments to be displayed in all public school classrooms in Louisiana. Shortly after Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed the bill, a coalition of civil liberties organizations announced their intention to sue to overturn the law.

Requiring the Ten Commandments in all classrooms

House Bill 71, passed by the Louisiana State Legislature in May and signed by Landry on Wednesday, mandates that every public classroom in the state — from kindergarten through 12th grade and all public college and university classes — display a copy of the Ten Commandments. The law specifies a minimum size for the display, the equivalent of the size of a poster, and mandates that the commandments be printed with “large, easily readable font.” While the commandments and other parts of the Bible have many different English-language translations, the Louisiana law dictates the exact wording of the commandments to be displayed.

“If you want to respect the rule of law, you gotta start from the original law given which was Moses,” Landry said on Wednesday before signing the bill, adding that Moses “got his commandments from God.”

‘Blatantly unconstitutional’

The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation are planning to sue to block the new law from going into effect. The four groups issued a joint statement making their case that “the law violates the separation of church and state and is blatantly unconstitutional. The First Amendment promises that we all get to decide for ourselves what religious beliefs, if any, to hold and practice, without pressure from the government.” The statement also points out that “even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition” and argued that “the government should not be taking sides in this theological debate, and it certainly should not be coercing students to submit day in and day out to unavoidable promotions of religious doctrine.”

‘I can’t wait to be sued’

At a recent Republican fundraiser, Landry told attendees, “I can’t wait to be sued” over the new law. Now that a lawsuit is being filed against the law, it is unclear what the outcome will be. In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against similar displays of religion. Most notably, it struck down a similar Kentucky Ten Commandments display law in 1980, ruling that it violated the First Amendment, which protects religious freedom and forbids the state from establishing an official religion. However, in recent years, the Supreme Court has become more conservative and more supportive of public displays of religion. For example, in 2022, the conservative justices ruled in favor of a high school coach who had been fired after publicly praying with students at midfield after games; the court ruled that he should not have been fired.

Thus, the civil liberties groups suing Louisiana believe that the new law blatantly violates the First Amendment and the principle of religious freedom. Meanwhile, supporters of the new Ten Commandments requirement have reason to believe that the courts will be more favorable to this law than they have been to similar policies in the past. As Louisiana schools face a deadline of January 1, 2025, to comply with the new law, we will see in the coming months whether it is allowed to go into effect.