HomeTop StoriesLouisiana law is not about the Ten Commandments. It's Christian nationalist...

Louisiana law is not about the Ten Commandments. It’s Christian nationalist bait for the Supreme Court.

Spend enough time listening to politicians, and eventually one of them will tell you the truth.

“I can’t wait to get sued,” Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry declared four days before signing a law last week requiring all public school classrooms – from kindergarten through college – to have a Protestant Christian version. of the Ten Commandments.

Landry made that statement not at his state’s Capitol, but nearly 600 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Tennessee.

Courting his party’s Christian nationalists with controversy is a great way to boost a guy’s national profile. Filing a lawsuit and perhaps having the case go to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a few justices might be willing to throw out decades of precedent, is even better.

Landry was so giddy about those prospects that he didn’t even notice when a young girl standing behind him at Wednesday’s signing ceremony fainted and fell to the ground.

“If you want to respect the rule of law, you have to start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses,” Landry said as others came to the girl’s aid and an analogy about priorities emerged.

What’s the takeaway? This has nothing to do with children or education, and everything to do with rolling back constitutional protections of and against religion.

Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry Doesn’t Seem to Care About the Hypocrisy of His Ten Commandments Law

The first ten words of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution are about protecting us from the kind of laws Landry just signed.

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“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” it begins, before adding “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

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The Bill of Rights is a list of priorities. Most people put the most important things at the top when making a list.

Since 1947, the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment guarantees freedom by religion and freedom by religion – known as the Establishment Clause – applies to state governments.

Landry could very well get the lawsuit he’s so excited about

Heather Weaver wants to indict Landry as much as he wants to be indicted. Weaver, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told me a lawsuit is coming this week — because the issue was already settled by the Supreme Court 44 years ago when it struck down a Kentucky law that required posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

The nation’s highest court also ruled in 2005 that three Kentucky counties had violated the Establishment Clause by displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public schools.

Both cases were 5-4 rulings, with conservative justices on the losing side.

The US Supreme Court on June 20, 2024.

The US Supreme Court on June 20, 2024.

This is a different Supreme Court, with a conservative supermajority full of justices—Samuel Alito comes to mind—who are convinced that Christians in America are somehow threatened. Alito made the claim in a college speech in May and was secretly recorded this month agreeing with an undercover liberal activist who told him that America needed to return to a “place of godliness.”

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Richard C. Schragger, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, said some judges in recent rulings have been open to personal expressions of religiosity in secular public spaces. The court in 2022 sided with a public high school football coach who lost his job for praying on the field after games.

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The Louisiana law could bridge these individual actions to institutional displays because it leans on a legal test advocated by some judges about religion that reflects not just faith but also history and tradition.

“I think they’re leaning toward allowing these kinds of religious practices at school and elsewhere,” Schragger told me. “I think that test is designed to be more sympathetic to that type of practice.”

Would the Supreme Court overturn precedents?

Rachel Laser, leader of American United for Separation of Church and State, will join the ACLU in the lawsuit. She agrees that Landry would like to take that fight to the Supreme Court.

“It is no secret that the Supreme Court sympathizes with the Christian nationalist agenda and the way they have ruled in many cases,” Laser said. “The court’s rulings embolden Christian nationalists to seek to bring cases before them that upend long-standing precedents in ways that privilege conservative Christianity over America’s commitment to religious freedoms for all.”

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Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, also joins the lawsuit and thinks the coalition has a good chance of winning. She noted that the high school football coach’s case involved players who, according to the court, voluntarily joined him in prayer. Louisiana law mandates the Ten Commandments in a “coercive” environment because students have to go to class.

But Gaylor expects more to come. States controlled by conservative Republicans are rushing to push religion into public spaces. A similar proposal in Texas failed to become law last year.

“Christian nationalists have never seen a bad idea that they didn’t want to copy,” Gaylor told me.

The hope is that the Supreme Court justices will follow established law despite their own beliefs

Nelson Tebbe, a professor at Cornell University Law School, also told me he thinks a majority of the Supreme Court will reject the Louisiana law, even if some justices want to embrace it.

“Under current law and precedent that is binding on Louisiana and binding on the Supreme Court itself, this Louisiana law is blatantly unconstitutional,” Tebbe said.

I hope he’s right. I hope that a majority of the justices, many of whom profess to appreciate the original intentions of the men who wrote the Constitution, will adhere to the guiding principles of the Establishment Clause.

That requires trust in our government, which lately seems more interested in testing that faith than making good on it.

Follow USA TODAY election columnist Chris Brennan on X, formerly known as Twitter: @ByChrisBrennan

You can read a variety of opinions from our USA TODAY columnists and other writers on the Opinion front page, on X, formerly Twitter, @usatodayopinion and in our Opinion Newsletter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why Louisiana wants Ten Commandments law to reach the Supreme Court

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