Ten Commandments in Classroom Bill Advances in Louisiana; Legal Challenge Likely

If approved, Louisiana would be the first state to mandate that the Ten Commandments be placed in classrooms.

This is a photo on the Ten Commandments on stone.

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A proposed law to require the display of the Ten Commandments in all Louisiana K-12 schools, colleges and universities advanced Wednesday in the Legislature, but it’s now more likely to face a legal challenge after it was amended to include private institutions.

If approved, Louisiana would be the first state to mandate that the Ten Commandments be placed in classrooms.

Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, has promoted her bill as way to provide moral guidance to students through a historical document she attributes as the source of all laws in the U.S. Schools would not have to spend their money to acquire posters of the Ten Commandments, but they would be required to display them if they are donated.

The House sent the bill to the Senate with an 83-18 vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana opposes the legislation.

State Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, presents a bill on the Louisiana House floor on May 23, 2023. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

Opponents of the legislation see it as state-sanctioned religion, which the First Amendment prohibits. Horton was asked whether she saw a problem with people who hold religious beliefs besides Christianity or Judaism who don’t recognize the Ten Commandments as a moral compass.

“I’m not concerned with Muslims. I’m not concerned with atheists,” Horton said. “I am concerned with our own children seeing what God’s law is.”

Debate over Horton’s bill surpassed three hours on the House floor, with three failed attempts to amend it.

Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, sought to have the Golden Rule to accompany the Ten Commandments. It derives from the New Testament (Matthew 7:12) “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you …”

When asked, Horton said she did not know the origins of the Golden Rule. She objected to Landry’s amendment, which the House voted down.

Rep. Joy Walters, D-Shreveport, wanted a tagline reading “African American, A.D. 1750” added to displays of the Ten Commandments because they weren’t considered applicable to Black people until the mid-18th century, she said. Her effort also failed.

Rep. Candace Newell, D-New Orleans, suggested the 42 laws of Ma’at be displayed in classrooms as well. Some religious historians suggest the Ten Commandments were plagiarized from principles linked to Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and order, which were scripted some 2,000 years before Moses received the commandments.

Rep. Jason Hughes asks a question during the May 26, 2022, meeting of the House Appropriations Committee. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, was unsuccessful when he tried to remove the classroom display mandate from Horton’s bill, but he did get House members to amend it to require any school that receives state money follow the proposed law.

The addition was problematic for Rep. Mike Bayham, R-Chalmette, who voted for Horton’s bill and told colleagues it would increase the odds that a non-religious private school would sue to block the law from being implemented.

Representatives who supported the proposal sought to straddle the line between forcing their religious beliefs into the public school setting and what they see as the need to provide guidance to students.

“I think the moral decline of our children is something we should be concerned about,” Rep. Roger Wilder, R-Denham Springs said.

Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, cited Republican Gov. Jeff Landry’s inauguration speech from January to explain the need to remove any obstacles to education from the classroom.

“We need to ‘let the teachers teach,’ Brown said, quoting the governor. “I don’t believe this (the Ten Commandments) is in the curriculum.”

Update: This report was updated to reflect Rep. Delisha Boyd’s vote change from no to yes.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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