Civil rights organizations, parents sue Louisiana over new Ten Commandments law in schools

Carolyn Kaster/AP

A group of Louisiana parents and civil rights organizations are suing the state over its new law that requires all public classrooms to display the Ten Commandments.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, contends that the legislation violates both US Supreme Court precedent and the First Amendment.

House Bill 71, signed by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry last week, mandates that by January 1, 2025, a poster-sized display of a state-approved version of the Ten Commandments with “large, easily readable font” be put in every classroom from kindergarten through the university-level at state-funded schools. It is currently the only state with the requirement.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that mandating the Ten Commandments be posted in every classroom renders them “unavoidable” and “unconstitutionally pressures students into religious observance, veneration, and adoption of the state’s favored religious scripture.”

“It also sends the harmful and religiously divisive message that students who do not subscribe to the Ten Commandments—or, more precisely, to the specific version of the Ten Commandments that H.B. 71 requires schools to display—do not belong in their own school community and should refrain from expressing any faith practices of beliefs that are not aligned with the state’s religious preferences,” the complaint continues.

The lawsuit is being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of nine “multi-faith families” with students enrolled in Louisiana public schools. The families involved in the lawsuit include parents who are “Jewish, Christian, Unitarian Universalist, and non-religious,” according to the joint news release announcing the lawsuit.

“This law strikes at the core of religious freedom,” Alanah Odoms, executive director of ACLU Louisiana, said in an online news conference Monday, calling HB 71 the “canary in the coal mine.”

The lawsuit names state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley, several other Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education officials, and some local school boards.

In a statement provided to CNN on Monday evening, Brumley said he looked forward to implementing the law.

“The Ten Commandments law passed with overwhelming support in Louisiana’s state legislature and was enthusiastically signed by our Governor,” he said. “I look forward to implementing the law and defending Louisiana’s sovereign interest to select classroom content fundamental to America’s foundation.”

CNN has reached out to Landry for comment.

Several of the parents being represented spoke at the news conference about why they chose to sue over the new law.

Josh Herlands, a Jewish father participating in the lawsuit, called the legislation “unconstitutional, divisive, intolerant, and frankly un-American.”

Rev. Darcy Roake, a Unitarian Universalist minister, said that she and her Jewish husband are teaching their children the “values of religious inclusion and diversity,” and that the law “will create an unwelcoming and oppressive school environment for children like ours.”

Presbyterian Rev. Jeff Sims said he believes it is a “gross intrusion of civil authority into matters of faith.”

Louisiana state Rep. Dodie Horton, the Republican author of the legislation, has previously dismissed concerns from opponents of the measure, saying the Ten Commandments are rooted in legal history and her bill would place a “moral code” in the classroom.

The organizations told journalists on Monday they plan to work toward obtaining a preliminary injunction hearing this summer, “so this law can never be implemented for the children in Louisiana.”

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