FFRF case rests in second Pa. Ten Commandments case


The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed for summary judgment Friday, Dec. 12, in its federal lawsuit against a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of New Kensington-Arnold School District’s Valley High School. The filing follows a similar motion in FFRF’s other Ten Commandments case in Connellsville Area School District, Pa.

“[T]he Court must send the clear message that a public school district has no right to instruct an audience of impressionable students on which god to have, how many gods to have, or whether to have any gods,” states FFRF’s brief.

The prominent granite monument in front of the high school was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1957, and was dedicated at a ceremony that included clergy members giving an invocation and benediction. FFRF charges the district with “scripting a purportedly secular purpose for keeping the display.” Former superintendent George Batterson admitted he “stuck to the script” about how the display was a historical monument when speaking to media.

After FFRF first asked the district to move the monument in 2012, Batterson made such statements as: “If we pray about [this issue] God will help our children to win out over the atheist organization that wants to impose their will on us.” His other private comments also highlighted a religious purpose for the monument, belying his public attempts to claim the district wished to retain the monument for “historical” reasons. “I am happy I am in a position to do what is right for all of the Christians and my students,” he wrote. Batterson later testified that he said a prayer every time he walked by the monument.

FFRF attempted to resolve this issue without going to court, but after the superintendent and school board said they would not remove the monument, FFRF filed suit in September 2012.

FFRF’s plaintiffs are a student and parent, who pulled the student out of the school because of unwanted contact with the Ten Commandments monument.

The brief concludes: “Just as the history of the monument reveals the religious endorsement, a review of the same facts demonstrates that the continued display of the monument furthers the religious purpose of both the decision-makers of the district and a majority of the members of the New Kensington-Arnold community. The district’s conduct in serving these personal religious agendas creates an unconstitutional entanglement between the district and the Christian religion.”

The school district also filed for summary judgment, arguing that the Ten Commandments monument is a historical monument whose purpose is “to help the youth of America and not to promote religion.” The Supreme Court ruled against public school display of Ten Commandments in a 1980 case, Stone v. Graham, noting that “The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature.”

FFRF is represented by Pittsburgh attorney Marcus B. Schneider. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott is assisting with the case. Both Ten Commandments challenges are in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry for the Western District of Pennsylvania, who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2002.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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