BATON ROUGE, La. (KPEL News) - In a move that many saw coming amid mixed reviews from both religious and non-religious residents, a diverse group of nine Louisiana families with children in public schools has filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge H.B. 71, a new state law that requires the display of the Ten Commandments in all public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary school classrooms.

The case, Roake v. Brumley, features plaintiffs—comprising parents who are rabbis, pastors, reverends, and non-religious—asserting that the law violates both the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and established Supreme Court precedent.

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Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, with legal support from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, the plaintiffs argue that H.B. 71 infringes on their First Amendment rights. They contend that the law not only breaches the separation of church and state but also imposes undue religious coercion on students.

The complaint highlights that more than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Stone v. Graham, reaffirming that public schools cannot post religious texts like the Ten Commandments in classrooms. According to the plaintiffs, H.B. 71 compels students to engage with religious doctrine, infringing on their rights to religious freedom and creating a divisive school environment.

The plaintiffs, who come from various religious and non-religious backgrounds, argue that the law pressures students into religious observance and alienates those who do not adhere to the specific version of the Ten Commandments mandated by the state.

Reverend Darcy Roake, one of the plaintiffs, expressed concern about the law's impact on religious inclusion and diversity. "The Ten Commandments displays required by this law fly in the face of our values and send a message of religious intolerance," she said. "No child should feel excluded in public school because of their family's faith tradition."

Reverend Jeff Sims, another plaintiff, echoed these sentiments, stating, "By favoring one version of the Ten Commandments, the government is intruding on deeply personal matters of religion. This law sends a message of religious intolerance that one denomination is preferable to others."

Non-religious plaintiffs Jennifer Harding and Benjamin Owens also voiced their objections. "The State of Louisiana should not direct a religious upbringing of our child and require students to observe the state’s preferred religious doctrine in every classroom," they stated.

The civil-rights organizations representing the plaintiffs issued strong statements condemning the law. Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, criticized the law as a misuse of power, saying, "Public schools are not Sunday schools. We must protect the individual right of students and families to choose their own faith or no faith at all."

Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, emphasized the lawsuit's importance in maintaining educational integrity. "Louisiana law requires children to attend school so they can be educated, not evangelized," she said.

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The outcome of this lawsuit will be closely watched as the debate surrounding fundamental issues of religious freedom and the separation of church and state in public education has become an instant hot topic in the wake of the mandate.

View the full press release here on the ACLU website.

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