Speaker Johnson Says Ten Commandments Mandate in Louisiana ‘a Positive Thing’

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) threw his support behind a controversial new law in his home state of Louisiana this week that mandates that the Ten Commandments be prominently displayed at all public schools and colleges.

“I’m supportive of it, yeah,” Mr. Johnson told reporters on June 26, according to The Hill. “And I think it should pass court muster. I think there’s a number of states trying to look to do the same thing, and I don’t think it’s offensive in any way. I think it’s a positive thing.”

Mr. Johnson has said his Christian background informs his conservative values. On his website, Mr. Johnson notes that the birth of the United States was inspired by the idea that “our individual, God-given liberties should be preserved.”

The speaker is also a former litigation attorney who spent “nearly 20 years successfully litigating high profile constitutional law cases in district and appellate courts nationwide,” his website states.

After the Louisiana bill became law on June 19, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of parents in the state who oppose the measure.

The lawsuit states that “for nearly half a century, it has been well settled that the First Amendment forbids public schools from posting the Ten Commandments in this manner,” and cites a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar law in Kentucky.

The Louisiana law “violates this binding precedent and the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” the suit alleges.

Mr. Johnson told reporters that he expects any lawsuits to make their way to the highest court and fail.

The Mandate

The Louisiana law calls for the display of the Ten Commandments in every building and classroom, using a prominent poster or framed document at least 11-by-14 inches in size with a large, easily readable font.

Additionally, a 200-word context statement must accompany the display, highlighting the historical significance of the Ten Commandments in American education.

The bill was approved by the Louisiana state Senate and House with significant majorities and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry.

Spearheaded by Republican state Rep. Dodie Horton, who previously led efforts to display the national motto “In God We Trust” in classrooms, the measure emphasizes the historical and moral importance of the Ten Commandments.

Mr. Johnson said he believes that the intent behind the bill is to acknowledge history and tradition in the United States.

“I mean, obviously, the Ten Commandments have a huge impact, and they’re very important in the development of our—well, of all of Western civilization, but certainly of our country,” Mr. Johnson said, according to The Hill. “I think that’s what they had in mind.”

The law has sparked debate specifically over the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government endorsement of religion.

That debate traces to 1980, when a divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law requiring public schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom, holding that the law signaled the government endorsement of “a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths” in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The parents suing over the law, via the ACLU, include those of other faiths who say that exposing their children to the Ten Commandments will interfere with the guidance of their children in their faiths.

They’re seeking an order declaring the law to be in violation of the Constitution, an order permanently blocking officials from enforcing the law, and an order requiring officials to provide a copy of the injunction to all schools in the state.


More recent Supreme Court decisions indicate a potential shift toward a less restrictive interpretation of the establishment clause, emphasizing historical practices.

In 2022, the court ruled in favor of a high school football coach’s right to pray on the field, highlighting the importance of religious liberty and historical context in interpreting the establishment clause.

A less recent example cited by Mr. Johnson was Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the Nebraska state Legislature to have a state chaplain lead legislative sessions in prayer, with Mr. Johnson noting the court found such practice “is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of our country.”

“What the Louisiana Legislature is trying to do—those are my old colleagues down there, I know what they’re up to—they’re trying to reemphasize the importance of that foundational part of our country, and that should be permissible,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s not an establishment of religion. It’s not. They’re not trying to enforce any particular religious code. They’re just saying this is part of the history and tradition.”

Bill Pan and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.


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