Louisiana may soon require public school classrooms to display the Ten Commandments

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana could soon become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom — in another expansion of religion into day-to-day life by a Republican-dominated legislature.

The legislation received final approval from the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature earlier this week and is headed to the desk of Republican Gov. Jeff Landry. It mandates that a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” be required in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities.

The GOP-authored bill comes during a new era of conservative leadership in Louisiana under Landry, who succeeded two-term Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in January. The state's reliably red Legislature also has a GOP supermajority and Republicans hold every statewide elected position, paving the way for lawmakers to push a conservative agenda. That includes a package of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, tough-on-crime policies, migrant enforcement measures and legislation mirroring conservative plans in Texas and Florida.

Similar bills requiring the Ten Commandments be displayed in classrooms have been proposed in other statehouses — including Texas, Oklahoma and Utah. However, with threats of legal battles over the constitutionality of such measures, no state has had success in the bills becoming law. If signed into law in Louisiana, legal challenges are expected to follow.

Legal battles over the Ten Commandments in classrooms are not new.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar Kentucky law was unconstitutional and in violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The high court found that the law had no secular purpose, but rather served a plainly religious purpose.

In Louisiana, a state ensconced in the Bible Belt, proponents of the bill argue that the measure is constitutional on historical grounds.

GOP state Sen. Jay Morris said Tuesday that “the purpose is not solely religious to have the Ten Commandments displayed in our schools, but rather its historical significance." He went on to say that the Ten Commandments is "simply one of many documents that display the history of our country and the foundation for our legal system.”

The law also “authorizes” — but does not require — the display of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence and the Northwest Ordinance in K-12 public schools.

Opponents continue to question the bill's constitutionality, warning that the state is sure to face lawsuits.

Democratic state Sen. Royce Duplessis argued that while supporters of the legislation say the intent of the bill is for historical significance, it does not give the state “constitutional cover” and has serious problems.

The lawmaker questioned why the Legislature was focusing on the display of the Ten Commandments, saying there are many more “documents that are historical in nature.”

"I was raised Catholic and I still am a practicing Catholic, but I didn't have to learn the Ten Commandments in school," Duplessis said on Tuesday. “It is why we have church. If you want your kids to learn about the Ten Commandments take them to church.”

The author of the bill, GOP state Rep. Dodie Horton, argued earlier this session that the Ten Commandments do not solely have to do with one religion.

“This is not preaching a Christian religion. It’s not preaching any religion. It’s teaching a moral code,” Horton said during a committee hearing in April. Last year, the lawmaker sponsored another law that requires all schools to display the national motto “In God We Trust″ in public classrooms.

Some opponents noted that while schools may soon be required to display the Ten Commandments, the Legislature has also recently passed a bill that broadly bars teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in public school classrooms.

The measure, which is expected to be signed into law, would bar teachers from discussing their own sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 public schools. It would also prohibit discussion of those topics “in a manner that deviates from state content standards or curricula developed or approved by the public school governing authority.” In addition, the bill prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity during any extracurricular” activity that is under the jurisdiction of the school.

And while lawmakers are debating what can and can't be discussed in school and what should be displayed, some say there are more pressing education issues plaguing the state.

“We really need to be teaching our kids how to become literate, to be able to actually read the Ten Commandments that we’re talking about posting. I think that should be the focus and not this big what I would consider a divisive bill.” Duplessis said.

Louisiana routinely reports poor national education rankings. According to the State Department of Education in the fall of 2022 only half of K-3 students in the state were reading at their grade level.