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Why the Ten Commandments belong in Louisiana classrooms

  | Getty Images/mtcurado

It’s impossible to divorce the Ten Commandments from the founding of America or civil society because God’s law is the foundation of law itself.  Louisiana recently passed a law requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in all public school classrooms using private funding. It only makes sense for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in Louisiana and classrooms nationwide given the Commandments’ indelible impact on our country’s laws and framework.

This makes Louisiana the first, but hopefully not the last, state in the nation to require the Ten Commandments in the classroom.

The Louisiana law notes the Ten Commandments’ role in “state and national history, culture, and tradition,” and “recognizing the historical role of the Ten Commandments accords with our nation's history and faithfully reflects the understanding of the founders of our nation with respect to the necessity of civic morality to a functional self-government.”

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The Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai, established the framework of law and the basis of morality as we know it and has done so for thousands of years.

It’s not surprising that anti-religion groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation didn’t skip a beat in taking legal action against the anticipated Ten Commandments publication.

Because of recent legal precedent and our nation’s moral foundation and religious mooring, I am confident the Ten Commandments will remain on classroom walls in Louisiana from January 2025 onward, as the law states, and hopefully set historic legal precedent.

Death of the ‘Lemon Test’ 

When it comes to religious liberty, the law is on our side. In 2005, I argued before the Supreme Court regarding the Ten Commandments in a historical display, and since then, Liberty Counsel has never lost a case on a stand-alone or historical display of the Ten Commandments.

But the most significant legal precedent for religious liberty was established in 2022 with the death of the “Lemon Test.” The unanimous Shurtleff v. City of Boston win, where I represented Hal Shurtleff and his right to display the Christian flag in a public forum, was cited in Kennedy v. Bremerton, which was the death knell to “Lemon.”

The Lemon Test, a result of the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman decision, haunted the legal landscape for over 51 years and allowed government discrimination based on religious viewpoint. Freedom of religion became freedom from religion under the Lemon Test and was the reason activist courts removed crosses, Ten Commandments displays, nativity scenes, and other religious symbols from government property. 

For decades, activist courts and judges used the Lemon Test to sanitize the public square of religion, but now that “Lemon” is overturned, there is no legal ground to stand on for lawsuits against religious symbols like the Ten Commandments in public places.

“Lemon” lies in the grave, never to “stalk” the Establishment Clause like “some ghoul in a late-night horror movie,” as Justice Scalia wrote in Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District.

Myth of ‘separation of Church and state’

The Ten Commandments, and other religious elements, played an integral role in American public education for nearly three centuries.

When the Supreme Court decided to remove prayer from public schools in 1962 in Engel v. Vitale and to remove the Ten Commandments from public schools in 1980 in Stone v. Graham, many Americans wrote off the idea of Christian influence in public schools and embraced the myth of “separation of church and state.”

This oft-misinterpreted phrase is found nowhere in our founding documents and was coined by President Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802 during the time he was attending a national church service in the U.S. Capitol. Since the Danbury Baptists were rightfully concerned about religious freedom, this statement was to assure them that the American government would never impose a state religion like the Church of England.

The Founders, however, never intended for God to be expunged from government. Instead, they established the Constitution for a “religious and moral people,” saying, “it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” in the words of President John Adams.

President James Madison said, "[w]e have staked the whole future of our new nation ... upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments." 

Our Founders relied heavily on God’s Word and law to establish the United States. They would be pleased to see the Ten Commandments displayed in classrooms and shocked that they were removed in the first place.  

Supporting the Ten Commandments in public schools does not equate to permitting the Quran, the LGBT “Pride” flag, or other pseudo-religious materials in the classroom in the name of the First Amendment, and it is absurd to insinuate that allowing the Ten Commandments opens this door. Our nation was founded on the principles set forth in the Ten Commandments, and our education should reflect our Judeo-Christian founding, not ideologies antithetical to the core values embedded in our foundation.

Indeed, there are about 50 displays of the Ten Commandments inside and outside the U.S. Supreme Court. The Ten Commandments is part of the official seal of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ten Commandments is ubiquitous because the Commandments clearly shaped American law and government.

We would not be the United States of America without this moral and legal standard.

Mat Staver is founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, chairman of Liberty Counsel Action, Faith and Liberty, Covenant Journey and Covenant Journey Academy. He has more than 350 legal opinions, authored eight scholarly law review publications, and many articles and books.

Mat has argued in many federal and state courts, including three landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, which includes a 9-0 precedent-setting victory in Shurtleff v. City of Boston. This case unanimously rejected the 1971 Supreme Court opinion of Lemon v. Kurtzman that did incredible damage to the First Amendment for 51-years.

Mat hosts two daily radio programs, "Freedom’s Call and Faith and Freedom," as well as a weekly television program, "Freedom Alive."

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