FFRF and parent remove Ten Commandments monument from Connellsville, Pa. junior high school (August 28, 2015)


FFRF filed suit on Sept. 27, 2012, against the Connellsville Area School District (Pa.) in a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument in front of the District’s junior high school. The suit was also brought on behalf of a student, Doe 4, then a 7th grader, and the student’s parent, Doe 5, an atheist and FFRF member.

The large, tombstone-like granite monument was donated to the school system in 1956 by a local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, where it sat alone in a prominent area near the entrance to the auditorium of Connellsville Area Junior High.

FFRF argued that the continued presence of the Ten Commandments on district property was an unconstitutional advancement and endorsement of religion.

On August 28, 2015, U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry of the Western District of Pennsylvania issued a 50-page decision, ruling that “the Ten Commandments monument at the Connellsville Area School District Junior High School runs afoul of the Establishment Clause.”

Judge McVerry’s decision recites the chronology of the placement, which involved the mayor rhapsodizing that “there can be no better guidance for youth than God’s laws.”

The decision also highlighted the community uproar over the request to remove the biblical edicts from public school grounds. At a public meeting the plaintiffs 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.

Although the student plaintiff was no longer at the junior high, because the student graduated, a claim for nominal damages avoided mooting the case. McVerry awarded the requested nominal damages in the amount of $1.00 to plaintiffs. The Connellsville School Board voted on Sept. 9, 2015 to return the monument to the Eagles. The monument was removed in October and placed on church property near Connellsville High School.

Freedom From Religion Foundation