The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit today against New Kensington-Arnold School District to remove a prominent Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of Valley High School, New Kensington, Pa.
FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based nonprofit state/church watchdog with 18,500 nonreligious members including more than 673 in Pennsylvania, is a named plaintiff, along with two local parents with children in the school district. They are: FFRF member Marie Schaub, who has a child, Doe 1, in the school district who regularly encounters the bible edict, and Doe 2, a student at Valley High School, along with Doe 3, parent and guardian of Doe 2. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania. Both parent plaintiffs have felt stress and anxiety over concern that they and their children would continue to encounter the religious monument at school.
A tombstone-like monument of the Ten Commandments, approximately six foot tall, is directly in front of the main school entrance, near two footbridges that students and visitors use to enter the building. The bible monument was presented by the New Kensington branch of the Eagles, a fraternal order that has littered the landscape with similar monuments. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott first sent a letter in March to the District Superintendent requesting that he remove the Ten Commandments monument because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The district failed to move the monument or even write an official response.
Board President Robert Pallone, however, wrote in March on the Facebook webpage called "KEEP THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AT VALLEY HIGH SCHOOL," that the district would not "remove this monument without a fight !!!!!" Clergy in the area held a rally during the school day in front of Valley High School to support the decision to retain the religious monument.
The complaint notes the display "lacks any secular purpose," citing Stone v. Graham, a 1980 Supreme Court decision which ruled the Ten Commandments may not be posted in public school classrooms, because "The pre-eminent purpose" for doing so "is plainly religious in nature."
The District's posting of Ten Commandments monument at the high school not only endorses and advances religion, but "also impermissibly coerces students to suppress their personal religious and non-religious beliefs and adopt the favored religious view of the District." The district also usurps parental authority.
The Eagles campaign started when a devout judge and Eagle member, E.J. Ruegemer— who wanted to promote religion and Minnesota granite — teamed up with film director Cecil B. DeMille, interested in promoting his 1956 epic, "The Ten Commandments." In 2002, FFRF successfully removed one of the first such monuments placed on government property, in the City of Milwaukee. Yul Brenner had turned up for the dedication.
FFRF is asking for a permanent injunction directing the district to remove the Ten Commandments monument from district property, reasonable costs and attorneys' fees, and nominal damages to plaintiffs. FFRF and its plaintiffs are being represented by Marcus B. Schneider of Pittsburgh.