Louisiana's mandatory Ten Commandments law invites the Supreme Court to impose more theocracy

Christian nationalists might as well force Trump Bibles into in every classroom, too

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 21, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Samuel Alito and the 10 Commandments in front of the Supreme Court of the US building (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Samuel Alito and the 10 Commandments in front of the Supreme Court of the US building (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Not that I usually feel reporters should be in the business of giving politicians pop quizzes, but for this, I'd make an exception. Now that Louisiana's Republican Gov. Jeff Landry has signed a clearly unconstitutional law requiring the Ten Commandments displayed in every public school and university classroom, it would be a good time to ask the law's supporters to list the commandments, in order. Most Republicans do a better job than Donald "Two Corinthians" Trump at performing Christian piety for the cameras, but still, it's a safe bet that few of the people reviving this tedious culture war flashpoint have read the actual Ten Commandments in quite a while. Many probably think "thou shalt not watch 'RuPaul's Drag Race'" is somewhere on there. 

Not that actually reciting them out loud would do Republicans any favors, either, as on any given day they're violating at least half of them. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" is violated on an hourly basis, with the exaltation of Trump as their replacement Jesus. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" is a joke in an atmosphere where the GOP standard is to lie about everything: Why Trump got 34 felony convictions, whether or not storming a Capitol to overturn an election constitutes an insurrection, why one's house keeps manifesting January 6 flags. "Thou shalt not steal" seems like it would also cover Trump's efforts to steal a presidential election. 

Even in passing this law, Louisiana Republicans are violating the spirit of "honor thy father," as they thumb their nose at the men they love to call the Founding Fathers. The founders were quite clear in their intentions for a secular state, in no small part to avoid exactly the conflict that is being teed up here. About one-third of Americans aren't Christian,  a percentage that rises to almost 40% when looking at people under 30. Mandatory Christian iconography — and that's how this is meant, no matter how much they disingenuously toss the word "Judeo" around — sends a clear and unmistakable message: Only Christians are "real" Americans. 

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Which is to say, Louisiana Republicans are signing onto an overt Christian nationalist agenda. This isn't about wanting to "respect the rule of law," as Landry claimed or he would respect the First Amendment. It certainly isn't morality from a party lined up behind Trump, who is breaking multiple commandments at any hour of the day. It really isn't about sincere religious faith, either, which is being polluted by this association with open bigotry and crass politicking. 

In a too on-the-nose symbol of how little Republicans actually care about the children they claim to champion, a little girl appeared to pass out during the bill signing, while Landry and his cohorts ignore her. 

It would be easy to shrug this off, of course. Making a stink about mandatory, taxpayer-funded displays of the 10 commandments has been a go-to political stunt for Republicans for decades. The last big fight over this was a little over a decade ago, when Oklahoma Republicans, no doubt as a psychological defense mechanism to cope with seeing a Black president, put one of these monuments up at the state capitol, only to have their own courts later rule it violated state religious liberty laws. In an age when democracy's very existence is threatened, these battles over symbols might seem like penny ante stuff. 

But this is much more serious than that, and not just because, as the Sam Alito flag controversy shows, symbols do matter. This law builds on years of the Supreme Court chipping away at both religious freedom and the separation of church and state. It's an open invitation to the court to go even further, and strike down the very premise that the U.S. government should not be telling its citizens what gods to worship or what religious strictures control their lives. This isn't just Republicans taking a petty swipe at their neighbors who believe differently than they do. It's about the ongoing threat of encroaching theocracy. 

Landry isn't hiding that fact, either. "I can’t wait to be sued," he crowed at a Republican fundraiser last week. In the same speech, notably, he denounced Trump's 34 felony convictions. The number of commandments Trump broke in the series of events that led to the conviction, by the way: At least seven, including adultery, stealing, coveting, false witness and, hilariously, breaking the Sabbath, since the golf tournament all this sinning happened it was on a Sunday. 

Louisiana Republicans clearly hope to get this case in front of the Supreme Court, which has been on quite a tear recently, and offered tortured decisions justifying the use of government power and taxpayer funds to foist conservative Christian beliefs on the non-consenting. In 2022, the court ignored decades of First Amendment precedent to rule that a high school football coach can bully his students into Christian prayer. In the same month, they also ruled — again violating decades of precedent — that the state of Maine has to pay for religious schools that not only have Bible classes but teach far-right beliefs, such as the immorality of homosexuality. In 2023, they ruled that opponents of LGBTQ rights can ignore anti-discrimination law, as long as the bigots claim religious motives. With the rise of explicitly racist rhetoric inside Christian nationalist circles, it may not be long before we see people who want to run whites-only businesses also claiming a "religious" exemption from the law. 

To underscore how this is not just about symbols, but about people's ability to live freely, we should add Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health to the pile. During oral arguments over abortion bans, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that state interest in banning abortion is nothing "but a religious view." This really is indisputable. There's no scientific reason to ban abortion. In fact, all evidence shows abortion bans are quite harmful to both individual and public health. When outside of court, and often even inside it, abortion opponents don't even bother to hide that this is about imposing their religious rules about sexuality and procreation on the majority of Americans who disagree.

When we're talking about theocracy, it's about more than having to see religious iconography in a public classroom or even being forced to play along while a teacher makes kids pray. It's the Christian right snaking its way into the most intimate parts of people's lives, using "Jesus" as an excuse to tell us who we can love, whether we can marry or divorce, and when we should have children — even as they can't or won't follow their own religious rules. As with all things MAGA, rules are forever only for other people.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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