Appeals court panel hears Ten Commandments case

The case of a Ten Commandments monument on school property is back in court.

A three-judge panel in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on May 19 heard oral arguments in a challenge to the monument in front of a high school in the New Kensington-Arnold School District in Pennsylvania.

FFRF and Marie Schaub, who is a parent of a student, appealed a district court decision last year ruling they didn’t have standing to bring the case against the district. But now her daughter is in high school, so it is likely that standing will be granted in the case.

“I believe so, and the district would have a decision to make,” district lawyer Anthony Sanchez told the panel, as reported by Brian Bowling of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

In its brief, FFRF points out that the plaintiffs were forced either to have “contact with an unwelcome religious exercise” or assume the burden of avoiding such contact. The plaintiffs had encountered the 6-foot, 2,000-pound monolith while attending school events prior to enrollment. Schaub ultimately refused to enroll her child at the high school because of the prominent monument in front of the school.

“Parents and students who have been injured by a school’s religious practices must have access to the courts,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We look forward to this case proceeding so that the school will be welcoming to nonreligious students.”

Bowling reports that Superintendent John Pallone, an alumnus of Valley High School (now Valley Junior-Senior High School), said he “probably walked by the monument twice daily as a student and frequently since then as a school official.” Despite the substantial size of the monument, Pallone embarrassingly called it “innocuous.”

“Until this lawsuit was filed, I never even knew that monument was there,” Pallone said. “It’s so innocuous that I can’t even believe that there’s an issue about that monument.”
Last year, a similar federal court challenge by FFRF and local parents and students ended with a court decision in FFRF’s favor and removal of an identical Ten Commandments monument from a junior high school in nearby Connellsville Area School District.

Schaub will be speaking about this case at FFRF’s annual convention, held Oct. 7-9, in Pittsburgh.

Freedom From Religion Foundation