FFRF, ACLU sue Virginia school over Ten Commandments (Sept. 15, 2011)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a federal lawsuit Sept. 13 against the School Board of Giles County, Va., for unconstitutionally endorsing religion by displaying the Ten Commandments. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke on behalf of a student at Narrows High School, Narrows, Va., and the student's parent. The plaintiffs also filed a motion for them to remain anonymous due to the potential for retaliation and for a protective order barring defense counsel and court personnel from disclosing their identities. FFRF first objected to the display in December 2010 when the Commandments were posted in all six county schools. The district responded by taking the displays down, then put them back up after a church congregation and others pressured the board. On advice of legal counsel, they were again later removed. In June, after FFRF and ACLU of Virginia sent a joint letter of objection to another plan to repost the bible edicts, the board voted 3-2 to post them again, with other documents, in the misguided belief that the documents would put the display on stronger legal footing. The display at Narrows High School is in a main hallway where the student plaintiff by necessity encounters it daily. The display "promotes a particular faith to which Doe 1 does not subscribe," the suit charges. "Doe 1 understands the current display to be merely a continuation of the board’s longstanding policy, practice, and custom of promoting the Ten Commandments in the school." Given the public outcry when the Commandments were removed and the clamor for their reinstallation, "any alleged secular purpose for the current displays are, and will be perceived as, a sham," the plaintiffs contend. Hundreds of students wearing Ten Commandments t-shirts walked out of a high school this spring. Other believers crowded school board meetings.

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the policy and postings are unconstitutional, a permanent injunction prohibiting Giles County Public Schools from displaying the Commandments, nominal damages and attorneys' fees and costs. The Supreme Court ruled in Stone v. Graham that public schools may not post the Ten Commandments. "One has only to read the first commandment, 'Thou shalt have no other god before me,' than to realize why a public school may not post such a command. It is none of the business of a school board whether a student embraces one god, ten gods or no god at all! The First Commandment is the antithesis of the First Amendment," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Plaintiffs' attorneys are FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott and Rebecca Glenberg, Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick of the ACLU of Virginia and Frank Feibelman, ACLU of Virginia cooperating attorney.

Legal Complaint (September 13, 2011)
Brief in Support of Protective Order
Brief in Opposition to Protective Order
Reply Brief Supporting Protective Order

Motion to Dismiss
Response to Motion to Dismiss

Protective Order
Defendant's Answer

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