Thou shalt honor thy First Amendment!

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has announced its intention to sue two Pennsylvania school districts in federal court after neither met a deadline to remove illegal Ten Commandment markers on school property.

FFRF had warned both districts that without notification by Sept. 7 that they were removing the monuments, FFRF would sue. FFRF has hired Pennsylvania counsel and has parent plaintiffs in both districts. Attorney Marcus Schneider of Pittsburgh wrote the districts Aug. 29 on behalf of FFRF, noting that the Ten Commandment monuments “will not withstand judicial scrutiny.” 

In response, the Connellsville Area School District grudgingly agreed to remove its 5-foot-tall monument near the Junior High School East auditorium entrance. The district placed  plywood over the front of the monument. After some in the community raised a fuss, the school board declined to vote Sept. 12 to remove the monument, so a lawsuit is imminent.

A suit is also being prepared against New Kensington-Arnold School District, which FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott first contacted last March. The similar granite bible monument prominently displayed at Valley High School is at the school entrance. It sits between two footpath bridges leading from the parking lot to the main entrance.

“The permanent display of the Ten Commandments in front of a New Kensington-Arnold school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Courts have continually held that public schools may not display religious messages or iconography,” wrote Elliott. He cited the Supreme Court decision (Stone v. Graham, 1980) that ruled posting the Ten Commandments in schools violates the Establishment Clause: “The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature.”

The New Kensington marker is a Catholic version of the Ten Commandments (with no reference to “graven images”).

His letter also cited Justice Stephen Breyer’s observation that Ten Commandments displays have no place “on the grounds of a public school, where, given the impressionability of the young, government must exercise particular care in separating church and state.”

“The school districts deserve an ‘F’ in civics,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Instead of protecting the freedom of conscience of students, they are sending a message that the First Amendment is trumped by the First Commandment. Contrary to the First Commandment, a school district has no business telling students and their parents which god to have, how many gods to have or whether to have any gods at all!”

FFRF has more than 18,500 nonreligious members nationwide. It’s currently suing over the declaration by the Pennsylvania House that 2012 is “the Year of the Bible.” That federal suit is being brought by attorney Richard Bolton behalf of FFRF and its 700 Pennyslvania members, including 41 named state members, and its chapter, Nittany Freethought.

Freedom From Religion Foundation