A specified Protestant version of the Ten Commandments must be displayed in all public schools in Louisiana by January 2025, the mandate of a bill Gov. Jeff Landry signed into law on June 19.

Louisiana is the only state to mandate such a display since the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional and solely religious a 1978 Kentucky law mandating the same. Louisiana bases its mandate on historical significance rather than religion, according to the text of the law on the legislative website, describing the commandments as “foundational” to Louisiana and the U.S.

The law applies to all public elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools, from kindergarten through college and mandates a version of the Ten Commandments contrary to that used by Catholics, the largest religious group in the state. However, the law does not apply to Catholic schools.

Legislators referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Van Orden v. Perry, which held that a Ten Commandments monument outside the Texas state capitol building honours the commandments’ historical meaning, and that “simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the establishment clause.”

“It is the Legislature’s intent to apply the decision set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in Van Orden v. Perry,” the Louisiana law reads, “to continue the tradition and ensure that the students in our public schools may understand and appreciate the foundational documents of our state and national government.”

Steve Horn, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, expressed gratitude for state lawmakers promoting traditional values but urged Louisiana Baptists to keep the commandments in word and deed.

“I urge Louisiana Baptists to understand the fundamental issue is not the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools, but the practicing of these commandments in our daily lives,” Horn told Baptist Press. “Remember, too, that Jesus summarized these commandments with the ‘Greatest Commandment,’ saying ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

“Ultimately, practicing these commands is how we turn our state, and our culture, around for the glory of God.”

Several organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have announced plans to challenge the law in court, but Horn believes the Ten Commandments have a rich history in public life.

“I believe these (legal) challenges can be countered with the fact that this is not the first time the Ten Commandments have been posted in our schools. They also serve as the foundation for many of our current laws,” Horn said. “I agree with the proponents that argue the Ten Commandments are historical, not simply religious.”

The law specifies the wording of the document to be displayed, based on the wording on the monument debated in Van Orden v. Perry, and requires the inclusion of a specified three-paragraph statement titled, “The History of the Ten Commandments in American Public Education.” Displays must be at least 11-by-14 inches and prominently positioned.

Landry welcomes a legal challenge to the law, he said June 15 at the 47th annual Tennessee Republican Statesmen’s Dinner, The Tennessean reported.

The Louisiana law might fare better than the 1978 Kentucky law that was overturned, the New York Times reported June 19, citing the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court and its 2022 ruling protecting the right of assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy to pray on the football field after high school games.

Catholics comprised the largest chunk of religious adherents in Louisiana in 2020 at 26.8 per cent of the population, followed by Evangelical Protestants at 25 per cent, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. But information at Catholic.com shows that Catholics enumerate the commandments differently than the required displays. Catholics do not list one against graven images, and instead divide the commandment regarding covetousness into two distinct commandments — one commanding not to covet a neighbour’s wife, the other regarding a neighbour’s goods.

Jewish people also use a different version of the Ten Commandments, beginning with a commandment to remember the God who delivered their ancestors from Egyptian enslavement.

Other religions practiced in Louisiana do not include the Ten Commandments in their religious texts.

This story has been republished with permission from Baptist Press.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.