Louisiana’s Ten Commandments Law Couldn’t Have Happened Without Trump

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Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry knew the score when he signed into law a requirement that every classroom in his state—from kindergarten classrooms to college chemistry labs—must post a copy of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the ambitious Republican seemed to be trolling his critics even before he sanctified the work of the GOP-controlled legislature.

“I’m going home to sign a bill that places the Ten Commandments in public classrooms,” he said Saturday night as he headlined a Republican Party fundraiser in Nashville. “And I can’t wait to be sued.”

Lawsuits were at the ready as soon as Landry signed the bill on Wednesday. It is abundantly clear this effort seems on a glide path toward the Supreme Court, which for decades has ruled such expressions of faith collide fatally with the First Amendment’s prohibition from state-sanctioned faith. But given the new tilt of the bench, conservatives’ credo might be reduced to a simple profession: In Trump They Trust.

That’s right. Donald Trump has been out of official power since early 2021 but his presence continues to be felt at every level of government. His legacy is most firmly established through his three picks to the Supreme Court, part of the record-breaking 231 federal judges Trump successfully nominated to federal roles. The Trump cohort of judges—mostly young conservatives with a bent to treat the roles as political callings rather than academic exercises—stand to shape American jurisprudence for a generation. And the Supreme Court is the most obvious and impactful of any of those levels thanks to 56-year-old Neil Gorsuch, 59-year-old Brett Kavanaugh, and 52-year-old Amy Coney Barrett.

That Trumpian trio is why Louisiana’s governor sounded so excited about being sued. While the Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that a similar Kentucky law was unconstitutional, a majority of the current justices may see things differently. They’ve already shown an openness to the Christian conservatives’ argument that faith and government can co-exist if not thrive in a symbiotic relationship. Notably, in 2022, Justices sided with a high school coach who argued his players had the right to pray at the 50-yard line and that Maine could not block religious schools from receiving a state subsidy. A year earlier, in a unanimous ruling, the Court said a Catholic group in Philadelphia could refuse to work with same-sex couples on fostering children.

By one study’s count, parties arguing on the basis of so-called religious liberty found success four out of five times. That’s no accident on a bench stacked by Trump with the explicit call to arms to blend religion—specifically, Christianity—with the rule of law.

This, in no small measure, helps to explain how self-described Values Voters have fallen into line behind the less-than-pious Trump and his bid to return to power in this November’s election. A Pew Research Institute study finds 43% of Trump supporters think government policies should support religious values, and 69% who say the Bible should influence U.S. laws. A second Pew study finds Trump riding high among white Evangelical protestants by a 2-to-1 margin.

While the Ten Commandments are important pieces of Jewish and Christian teachings and compatible with Islam, the play in Louisiana—and elsewhere, to be clear—have clear linkages to the current Republican Party’s courtship of Christian conservatives, especially white Christian nationalists. That first Pew survey found 22% of Trump supporters say the government should declare Christianity the official national religion and 59% who say the government should promote Christian morality.

So while Trump is out of sanctioned power—at least for the moment—there is still no credible way to argue that he’s without tremendous sway over the Republican Party and the laws it is passing.  Louisiana may be the first test case of these omnipresent reminders of religious teachings, but it most certainly will not be the last. The current political environment is one that rewards such audacious acts, and it’s no accident that Landry chose to taunt his critics while signaling his national ambitions during a dinner more than 500 miles from home. For any GOP politician looking to make inroads with the party’s conservative Christian base—be it a first-term Governor or a convicted ex-President—pandering like this works to build lists, credibility, and fundraising tallies. If secular voters—or even those who think the place for expressions of faith are better served in a sanctuary than a Nashville convention hall—stopped rewarding such trolling, perhaps the sanctimonious performance art would stop. One can only pray.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com