Should Louisiana Be Sued Over Its New Ten Commandments Bill?

By Milo Jones | Posted July 03, 2024

Back when chewing gum and making spitballs were some of the worst classroom offenses, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Kentucky could no longer require its schools to post the Ten Commandments.

That was in 1980. Today, when America’s public schools appear to be in moral disrepair, who would object to bringing God’s law back into the classroom? 

Yet some are objecting in Louisiana. After Gov. Jeff Landry recently signed a bill requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted in every public-school classroom, the state was sued for allegedly violating the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

And just last week, Oklahoma’s top education official issued a directive for public schools to teach the Bible and the Ten Commandments starting this fall. Will Oklahoma also be sued? 

A Wall of Separation

Though most Americans are familiar with the phrase “the separation of church and state,” very few know about its origins. The concept was first articulated by Roger Williams, a Puritan minister who clashed with fellow colonists for arguing that the government has no business regulating a person’s relationship with God. 

The target of religious persecution, Williams knew by experience the importance of keeping the state out of the church. After asserting that the “unsaved” should not be denied the right to vote and that the state should not prosecute people for violating purely religious rules, he was banished from Massachusetts Bay for these “novel and dangerous” ideas. Forced to flee in the winter of 1636, he eventually found sanctuary among some tribes in a place he would later call Providence. It became a colony that welcomed not only Christians but also Jews, Quakers, and Deists.

Williams and his followers opted to establish a new kind of government—one whose powers were restricted to civil affairs, deriving its authority from the local populace instead of magistrates claiming to be divinely appointed. He knew that the Massachusetts model for society, where the state enforced a particular theological practice, would not make the world better but the church worse. Thus, he argued for a “wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

Later, in 1802, Thomas Jefferson used Roger William’s “wall of separation” metaphor in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut. “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God,” he wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” 

Here Jefferson quoted the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Establishment Clause prohibits the state from promoting any religion, while the Free Exercise Clause protects citizens’ rights to worship as they please.

Establishing Civility, Not Religion

Concerning the current lawsuit against the state of Louisiana, the question should be asked, “Will students be forced to worship the God of the Bible simply because they’ll be exposed to a poster of the Ten Commandments?” 

The bill states that the commandments are to be displayed in each classroom no later than January 1, 2025, “in a large, easily readable font.” According to the lawsuit, “permanently posting the Ten Commandments in every Louisiana public-school classroom—rendering them unavoidable—unconstitutionally pressures students into religious observance, veneration, and adoption of the state’s favored religious scripture.”

But again, will students be pressured “into religious observance”? Not according to the bill. Its purpose, rather, is to educate students about the historical documents of our nation. In fact, the bill provides a three-paragraph history of the Ten Commandments in American public education that must be on each display.

Similarly, the Kentucky law that was overruled in Stone v. Graham (1980) required the following notation in small print at the bottom of each display: “The secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States.”

But how can a biblical law have a “secular application”? Wouldn’t that violate the Establishment Clause?

If so, why are the Ten Commandments at the center of a wall frieze above the Supreme Court’s bench? What’s peculiar about this sculpture is the “Majesty of Law” figure whose left leg covers most of the first five commandments (III through V are completely hidden)—implying that the state’s business is not to regulate the worship of God or meddle in family affairs (except, of course, in cases of abuse). But when it comes to things like murder, adultery, theft, and perjury, the second half of the Decalogue has proven a reliable guide for governing a civil society.

Moreover, Roger Williams himself split the Decalogue in two, applying the “Second Table” to the “natural responsibilities of the state.” 

Incidentally, the apostle Paul only cites the last five commandments after talking about the role of government. After saying that “the authorities … are appointed by God” and that “those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1, 2), he goes on to talk about how we should love our neighbor (vv. 8–10).

He also wrote to Timothy that in the last days, “men will be lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:1, 2). Perhaps the removal of God’s law from public places is a sign of the times.

To learn more about the Ten Commandments, check out Pastor Doug’s video series The Ten Commandments: Laws of Love and Liberty. 

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

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