U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled Jan. 22 that the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s challenge to a Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania high school will go forward. McVerry rejected a motion to dismiss by the New Kensington-Arnold School District and issued an order that directs the district to file an answer to the plaintiffs’ complaint.
FFRF and two families filed suit in September 2012 against the school district over the prominent placement of a Ten Commandments monument at Valley High School. The district sought to dismiss the case by claiming that it had been “foreclosed” by the Supreme Court’s Van Orden v. Perry decision in 2005, which allowed a similar monument on the Texas Capitol grounds to stand.
FFRF’s brief argued that there are significant factual and legal distinctions between the cases, most notably, that the Supreme Court has ruled against Ten Commandments displays in the school context.
McVerry’s opinion stated that the First Amendment claim “has sufficient merit under our current jurisprudence.” He noted that at this preliminary stage, “there is no meaningful evidence to support the School District’s attack on the merits of Plaintiffs’ case and thus the ‘foreclosure’ argument is unavailing at this time.”
The court issued an order in December that allowed three of the plaintiffs to proceed using pseudonyms, finding that there was a substantial public interest in protecting them from retribution from upset members of the community. The court will hold a scheduling conference in February.
FFRF, with local families, is also suing over a nearly identical violation in Connellsville, Pa.