FFRF sues Virginia school over Ten Commandments

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a federal lawsuit Sept. 13 against the School Board of Giles County, Va., for unconstitutionally endorsing religion by displaying the Ten Commandments.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke on behalf of a student at Narrows High School, Narrows, Va., and the student’s parent. The plaintiffs also filed a motion for them to remain anonymous due to the potential for retaliation and for a protective order barring defense counsel and court personnel from disclosing their identities.

FFRF first objected to the display in December 2010 when the Commandments were posted in all six county schools. The district responded by taking the displays down, then put them back up after the public pressured the board. On advice of legal counsel, they were again later removed.

Then in June, after FFRF and ACLU of Virginia sent a joint letter of objection to the district, the board voted 3-2 to put the Commandments up along with other documents in the misguided belief that the documents would put the display on stronger legal footing. The other elements included a depiction of Lady Justice, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Mayflower Compact and the Magna Carta.

The display at Narrows High School is in a main hallway where the student plaintiff by necessity encounters it daily. The display “promotes a particular faith to which Doe 1 does not subscribe,” the suit charges. “Doe 1 understands the current display to be merely a continuation of the board’s longstanding policy, practice, and custom of promoting the Ten Commandments in the school.”

Given the public outcry when the Commandments were removed and the clamor for their reinstallation, “any alleged secular purpose for the current displays are, and will be perceived as, a sham,” the plaintiffs contend.

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the policy and postings are unconstitutional, a permanent injunction prohibiting Giles County Public Schools from displaying the Commandments, nominal damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott and Rebecca Glenberg, Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick of the ACLU of Virginia and Frank Feibelman, ACLU of Virginia cooperating attorney.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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