FFRF: Minn. school district must reject Ten Commandments proposal

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on a Minnesota school district to nix a shockingly misguided proposal to erect a Ten Commandments display on school property.

FFRF was informed that on May 20, former board member Dennis Dodge proposed to display the Ten Commandments on Park Rapids Area Schools property. He attached a blueprint with the proposed display on one side, and a quote on the other side, reading, “We must put God back into our educational system before we lose our children and this great nation.”

Dodge claimed, “Satan seems to be winning because we are allowing him to…Our society has lost its moral compass, its values and its respect for each other…if we can save even one child from Satan’s grapes, it is worth every cent we spend on this donation, because God’s children are priceless.”

FFRF Patrick O’Reily Legal Fellow Hirsh Joshi sent a legal complaint letter to the district, noting that the scheme is patently unconstitutional. In the seminal case on Ten Commandments displays in schools—Stone v. Graham—the U.S. Supreme Court held that a Ten Commandments poster erected in public schools violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because the display’s purpose and the commandments themselves are preeminently religious in nature. FFRF has successfully litigated Ten Commandments cases in three school districts.

Comically, the sketch of the proposed display is titled the “Ten Commandments,” while listing only nine commandments. “The monument sends the message that school children don’t need to learn how to count,” Joshi quips.

“Counting and the Constitution are two things schools should teach kids,” adds Joshi. “This proposal fails on both counts.”

In his proposal, Dodge cited a Supreme Court case allowing a long-standing public Ten Commandment display to remain on government — not public school — property, rationalizing the site contained many monuments and was akin to a museum. He fails to mention the majority’s distinction between the Ten Commandments display on the Texas Capitol grounds and those in schools with a captive audience of schoolchildren. The fact that Dodge suggests the biblical edicts be donated is similarly irrelevant. Government speech—particularly in the classroom—may not be religious.

Erecting a Ten Commandments sends a forbidden message to nonadherents that they are outsiders and not full members of the political community, excluding the 49 percent of Generation Z students who are religiously unaffiliated, FFRF further points out.

“It should be obvious to anyone that the First Commandment alone — ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ — is the antithesis of our First Amendment, which, by the way, is one of the principles that truly makes America great,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Park Rapids Area Schools has no business telling students which gods to have, how many gods to have or whether to have any gods at all.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 800 members and two chapters in Minnesota. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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