The Freedom From Religion Foundation and anonymous plaintiffs asked a federal court in Pennsylvania yesterday for a final ruling in its lawsuit against a prominent Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of a public junior high school in the Connellsville Area School District, Pa.
"While many in the Connellsville community longingly view this monolith as a beacon of the bygone era of school prayer, the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence defines it as an unconstitutional vestige from that time," opens FFRF's brief.
"The federal courts have never found a display of the Ten Commandments in a public school or on its grounds to be constitutional," FFRF states, noting that cases "at all levels" distinguish between religious displays on school grounds and those on other government property.
The history of this particular monument demonstrates its unconstitutionality, FFRF contends. The monument, donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1957, was accepted by the school board. The school held a dedication ceremony attended by students where a minister offered an invocation and benediction. The local Eagles representative said the monument was intended to "inspire all who pause to view the Ten Commandments with a renewed respect for the law of God which is our greatest strength against the forces that threaten our way of life."
FFRF attempted to resolve this issue without going to court. The district originally took steps to cover up and relocate the monument, but backtracked after public outcry. FFRF filed suit in September 2012.
The brief concludes: "The District's conduct in serving the majority of its predominantly Christian community creates an unconstitutional entanglement between the District and the Christian religion." It asks the court to issue an injunction directing the district to remove the Ten Commandments monument.
Connellsville Area School District also filed for summary judgment, arguing that FFRF's Doe plaintiffs, a Connellsville student and the student's parent, were not offended enough by the monument to have standing to bring the case. The district's brief claims that because the Ten Commandments monument, which is 54 inches tall, includes a bald eagle and some tiny symbols at the bottom, that the Ten Commandments are "simply one element in a display with an overall secular message."
FFRF is represented by Pittsburgh attorney Marcus B. Schneider. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott is assisting with the case.