N.D. Ten Commandments law unconstitutional, FFRF charges

Ten Commandments

A new North Dakota law that seeks to impose the Ten Commandments on the state’s public schoolchildren is unconstitutional, declares the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The bill, which would require school districts to allow Ten Commandments displays “in the school and in a classroom,” shockingly passed the North Dakota Statehouse. The bill originally permitted Ten Commandments stand-alone displays. The final version that Gov. Doug Burgum signed was changed to only allow schools to place the biblical displays “with a display of other historical documents in the school and in a classroom.” This is obviously an attempt to exploit the U.S. Supreme Court’s Van Orden decision allowing a Ten Commandments display at the Texas Capitol by claiming it was one of multiple monuments. The Supreme Court has explicitly barred any Ten Commandments display in a public school.

The North Dakota law flouts the Constitution in an attempt to sneak religion — and Christian nationalism — into public schools.

Knowing that such Ten Commandments displays violate the law, legislators are including a provision that purports to remove all legal damages from school districts, administrators and board members for erecting such displays. This provision is misleading, since schools could still be subject to injunctions that would lead to the school paying for legal fees, and schools and school officials would still be subject to legal liability under federal law.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Ten Commandments displays in public schools violate the Establishment Clause, noting “The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature.” FFRF has prevailed against two Pennsylvania school districts that hosted Ten Commandments monuments. One district settled with the removal of the monument and more than $163,000 in attorneys fees. This law would open districts up to expensive and unnecessary legal liability.

And, of course, FFRF will challenge any displays that go up in schools. Any families in schools where these Ten Commandments displays go up should reach out to FFRF via webform, by clicking here.

“The North Dakota Legislature and governor have colluded in a cynical exercise,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “All the last minute window-dressing doesn’t change the constitutionally sinful nature of the law.”

Lamentably, the law is also an example of how the Religious Right is banking on an ultraconservative Supreme Court to give its approval to such misconduct.

“Proponents of the bill had said if the legislation would ever reach the U.S. Supreme Court, it could be viewed more favorably by the court because of its shift to the right following the appointment of three conservative justices by President Donald Trump,” the Associated Press reports.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be working to ensure our public schools stay free from religious endorsement and proselytizing.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members all over the country, including members in North Dakota. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement