The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh against the Connellsville Area School District for maintaining a Ten Commandments momument at the Connellsville, Pa., Junior High School.
FFRF, on behalf of local plaintiffs "Doe 4" and "Doe 5," seeks a declaration that the display is unconstitutional and an injunction requiring it to be moved, nominal damages and attorneys' fees and costs.
The state/church watchdog filed a similar suit Sept. 14 against the New Kensington-Arnold School District for maintaining a Ten Commandments monument at Valley High School in New Kensington, Pa.
FFRF is a Madison, Wis.-based nonprofit membership organization with 18,500 nonreligious members, including about 675 in Pennsylvania.
The monument, which is between 5 and 6 feet tall, is near the main entrance by the Junior High auditorium. When the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the monument in 1957, the building was the high school.
The complaint states that the continued presence of the Ten Commandments on district property is an unconstitutional advancement and endorsement of religion. The complaint also notes that the display "lacks any secular purpose," citing Stone v. Graham, a 1980 Supreme Court decision which ruled the Ten Commandments may not be posted in public school classrooms, because "The pre-eminent purpose" for doing so "is plainly religious in nature."
Pittsburgh-based attorney Marcus Schneider represents the plaintiffs. He wrote to Superintendent Dan Lujetic on Aug. 29 demanding that the district "permanently remove the Ten Commandments monument from school property" and provide notice of removal to Schneider by Sept. 7 or FFRF would file suit.
The district promptly contacted Schneider, agreeing to remove the marker. It was first covered with plastic and later with plywood, although vandals apparently removed both materials several times.
After at least two rallies were held in favor of keeping the momument and intense public pressure, the school board voted Sept. 12 to "delay any further action concerning moving the monument from its current location . . . until further notice and pending further legal action."
On Sept. 14, a large wooden box was used to cover the entire monument.
"The indefinite covering of the highly conspicuous Ten Commandments monument has neither remedied the impermissible coercion that Plaintiffs previously endured, nor has it had the effect of squelching the message of religious endorsement that the district continues to send," the complaint noted.
Doe 5 is an atheist and member of FFRF who views the monument as usurpation of parental rights and who does "not subscribe to the religious statements that are inscribed on the monument." Her child, Doe 4, attends the junior high school and comes in regular contact with the prominent monument. It is within view of students boarding or exiting school buses and participating in outdoor gym classes.
The complaint notes: "FFRF and Doe 5 contend that a public school district has no right to instruct its captive audience of impressionable students on which god to have, how many gods to have, or whether to have any gods at all."