Media Contact

Janna Farley,

February 2, 2021

The ACLU of North Dakota opposes Senate Bill 2308, legislation that would allow public schools to post copies of the Ten Commandments in classrooms and other school spaces. It’s an unnecessary, unconstitutional bill that, if passed, would likely mean costly litigation for North Dakota schools.

Students already have the right to engage in religious exercise and expression at school under current law. Students may, for example, voluntarily pray, real religious literature or engage in other religious activities during recess or lunch. The ACLU has long worked to protect the religious exercise and religious expression rights of students of all faiths in public schools.

But there’s a stark difference between voluntary, student-initiated religious exercise and school-sponsored promotion of religion. Court precedent confirms this.

More than 40 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court said in Stone v. Graham that “if the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.”

Additionally, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU shortly before the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Stone, the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota struck down a similar North Dakota law that required public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

“All students, regardless of their faith, should feel safe and welcome in our public schools,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of North Dakota campaigns director. “Displaying the Ten Commandments in classrooms and other school spaces would convey the opposite message. It would make clear that school officials favor students of certain faiths and that those who do not subscribe to officials’ preferred faith are outsiders. This exclusionary message would be divisive and constitutionally impermissible.”

Senate Bill 2308 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee today. The ACLU of North Dakota provided written testimony (see below). 

About the ACLU of North Dakota

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of North Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes South Dakota and Wyoming. The team in North Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people.  In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of North Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of North Dakota.