The Connellsville (Pa.) Area School District Board voted unanimously Sept. 9 to remove a Ten Commandments monument that led to FFRF's federal lawsuit. The action came on the heels of an Aug. 28 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Terrance McVerry that the monument at Connellsville Junior High School "runs afoul of the Establishment Clause."
FFRF filed suit in September 2014 along with a seventh-grade student, "Doe 4," and the student's parent, "Doe 5," who is an atheist and FFRF member. The granite monument was donated to the school in 1956 by a chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
McVerry's 50-page decision recounted the community uproar over the removal request, including a prayer rally at the school. At a public meeting, the complainants were referred to as "yellow-belly bums" for being pseudonymous, and speakers cited the need to "stand up for the bible" and Christianity.
"The monument still stands alone outside the school, declaring to all who pass it, 'I AM the LORD thy God.' There is no context plausibly suggesting that this plainly religious message has any broader, secular meaning," wrote McVerry.
He added that is ruling "is in no way meant to denigrate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the citizens and elected officials in the Connellsville community who rallied in support of keeping the monument. . . . When, however, our government, at whatever level, departs from mere acknowledgement of our religious history to endorsement of a particular religious message, as set forth in the Ten Commandments, it has gone too far."
McVerry awarded plaintiffs the requested nominal damages in the amount of $1.
FFRF was represented by Attorney Marcus Schneider with assistance from FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.