Church Vs. State: THIS State Took School Matters Into Its Own Hands

By Javier Sanchez | Thursday, 11 April 2024 05:15 AM
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In a move that has sparked controversy, Louisiana's public classrooms may soon be mandated to display the Ten Commandments.

This development hinges on the passage of House Bill 71, a piece of legislation proposed by Republican state lawmakers Rep. Dodie Horton and Sen. Adam Bass. The bill successfully navigated its way through the House Committee on Education last Thursday.

Despite lingering questions about its constitutionality, Horton and Bass expressed confidence in the bill's ability to withstand legal scrutiny. They pointed to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling as a potential game-changer, opening new avenues for religious displays in public spaces. Previous attempts to enforce similar displays in states like Texas and South Carolina have been unsuccessful.

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In a statement, Bass said, "Both Representative Horton and I believe it will withstand legal and judicial scrutiny, as well as this bill is the first of its kind since the fall of the Lemon law [sic]. We hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the country."

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The 2022 ruling, which upheld a high school football coach's right to pray publicly after games, has been interpreted as a positive precedent for religious displays in public spaces. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the 6-3 majority, stated that the clauses of the First Amendment "work in tandem. Where the Free Exercise Clause protects religious exercises, whether communicative or not, the Free Speech Clause provides overlapping protection for expressive religious activities."

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Mississippi attorney Ronald Hackenberg, associated with the Pacific Justice Institute, lent his legal expertise in support of the bill during the committee meeting. He highlighted the ruling's departure from the Lemon test, a three-part legal standard previously used to assess if a law or government act infringes on the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. According to Hackenberg, this shift in judicial perspective signals a changing landscape for religious displays in public settings.

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However, the bill has met with resistance from The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana. Advocacy strategist A’Niya Robinson argued that the specifics of the case do not apply to the proposed legislation. She contended that students would be a captive audience under the proposed law and pointed out that the coach's post-game prayer was not within his duties as a school employee, and students were not obligated to join in.

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Robinson stated, "One of the things that the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they came up with the First Amendment was that religious freedom only flourishes if people have breathing room to decide what religious beliefs, if any, that they want to follow."

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Despite opposition, House Bill 71 passed out of the committee with a 10-3 vote, with representatives crossing party lines. Republican Rep. Barbara Freiberg cast one of the dissenting votes, citing concerns that the Ten Commandments did not represent all faiths. In an unexpected move, Rep. Sylvia Taylor, D-Reserve, crossed party lines to join the nine Republicans in support of the bill.

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Rep. Horton has a history of working on religious display initiatives. Last year, she and Rep. Jack McFarland successfully passed a bill mandating "In God We Trust" signs in every classroom, which was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

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House Bill 71, similar to Horton's previous proposal, outlines the requirements for displaying the Ten Commandments. They must be presented on a poster or framed document of at least 11 by 14 inches with a large, easily readable font. The bill allows schools to use their funds or accept donated versions for these displays.

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