National News

Louisiana Public Schools Must Post Ten Commandments, Other Historical Documents

Stone tablets depicting the Ten Commandments are shown outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 27, 2005, placed there during a vigil by a religious group. In Louisiana, Public school classrooms will now be required to display the Ten Commandments by the start of 2025 as part of a new educational reform law signed by Gov. Jeff Landry June 19, 2024. (Photo: OSV News/Jason Reed, Reuters)

By Gina Christian

(OSV News) — Public school classrooms in Louisiana will now be required to display the Ten Commandments by the start of 2025 as part of a new educational reform law signed by Gov. Jeff Landry.

The Republican governor was at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette, Louisiana, June 19 to ink the “Dream Big” Education Plan, a package of close to 20 bills. The measures span scholarship accounts, the removal of COVID vaccine requirements in schools, parental consent for the use of preferred pronouns, teacher compensation and retirement, limitations on discussion of gender and sexuality in K-12 schools — and the mandated posting of “the Ten Commandments and other historically significant documents … in courthouses and other public buildings,” according to the law’s text.

Texas, Oklahoma and Utah have seen similar bills proposed, but Louisiana is the first state to formally enact such legislation.

Also known as the Decalogue, from the Greek for “ten words”, the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:2-17, Deut 5:6-21) as what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “a path of life” (CCC, 2057). The catechism states that the Decalogue “must be interpreted in light” of Jesus’ commandment to love God and neighbor fully (CCC, 2055, 2056).

Landry said the “Dream Big” package “fulfilled our promise to bring drastic reform to our education system and bring common sense back to our classrooms,” putting “the focus back on our kids” and allowing “Louisiana to follow in the footsteps of our neighbors in the South.”

Florida passed a 2022 Parental Rights in Education Act that — following a March U.S. Court of Appeals settlement clarifying its terms — specifically prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender. That same month, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a “parental right to know” bill requiring public schools, from grades pre-K to 12, to post their curricula online for access by parents and guardians.

Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette welcomed Landry to Our Lady of Fatima, and was quoted in a June 19 Facebook post by the diocese as saying he was “eager to learn more about the new Gator Bill,” referencing the acronym of the scholarship account legislation, Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise (Louisiana GATOR).

“Parents play a crucial role as their children’s first educators and should have the freedom to select the schools where their children receive education,” said Bishop Deshotel in his address. “Parents already contribute to school taxes and tuition, especially if they opt for a non-public school. With this new bill, hopefully, parents with limited resources can also have the choice of where they want their children to be educated.”

On its Facebook page, Our Lady of Fatima School said it was “honored Governor Landry chose Fatima” to sign the Gator Bill, which was a “monumental” piece of legislation.

In their social media posts, neither Bishop Deshotel nor Our Lady of Fatima mentioned the other bills in the package, including the Ten Commandments bill, which would not apply to Catholic schools.

Republican Rep. Dodie Horton had introduced HB 71 regarding the Ten Commandments, with the bill text noting the Decalogue’s “historical role” in the development of the U.S., having been as well “a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries.”

The list “faithfully reflects the understanding of the founders of our nation with respect to the necessity of civic morality to a functional self-government,” said the bill text.

The bill specifies that the commandments must be displayed on a poster or framed document at least 11 by 14 inches, in a “large, easily readable font.” School boards “are encouraged to use documents that are printed and made available to the schools free of charge,” the text states. A three-paragraph context statement will be included with the list, describing the Ten Commandments’ historical inclusion in public school education.

In addition, the bill sets forth the wording to be used for the commandments, which follows a traditional catechetical formula that does not include the full Scriptural text. The translation of the wording aligns with that of the King James Version of the Bible.

Along with historical precedent for the inclusion of the commandments in public educational settings, the bill cites the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Van Orden v. Perry, in which the court ruled it permissible to display the Ten Commandments on government property. The bill as well notes the court’s 2019 recognition in American Legion v American Humanists Association that the commandments “have historical significance as one of the foundations of our legal system,” with displays of the list on public property potentially serving “multiple purposes” such as “historical significance” and the recognition of a “common cultural heritage.”

Other documents included in HB 71 are the Mayflower Compact of 1620, a democratic governance document agreed to by the Puritan religious separatists who founded the Plymouth Colony in modern-day Massachusetts; the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which chartered a government for the then-Northwest Territory of the U.S., while providing for a bill of rights there and the admission of new states to the Union from the territory; and the Declaration of Independence, whereby the original 13 colonies of the U.S. renounced their allegiance to the British Crown and proclaimed themselves free and independent states.

A number of organizations have vowed to file suit against HB 71, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which in a June 19 joint statement said that “politicians have no business imposing their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools” and that the government “should not be coercing students to submit day in and day out to unavoidable promotions of religious doctrine.”