The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided today that an FFRF member who is a parent of a high school student has legal standing to challenge a Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania school.
The court ruled in favor of Marie Schaub, finding that a district court dismissal of the case against the New Kensington-Arnold School District last year was improper. The three-judge panel unanimously found that Schaub's removal of her daughter from Valley High School due to the Ten Commandments monument, and prior contact with it, were sufficient for her to bring the case.
"The District Court appeared to read the direct, unwelcome contact standard to include a frequency requirement," Judge Patty Shwartz, writing for the panel, said of the legal test applied by the district court. "This is incorrect."
The court noted the ability of plaintiffs to bring Establishment Clause cases, even when they have not changed their behavior.
"A community member should not be forced to forgo a government service to preserve his or her ability to challenge an allegedly unconstitutional religious display or activity," Schwartz said. "Thus, a community member like Schaub may establish standing by showing direct, unwelcome contact with the allegedly offending object or event, regardless of whether such contact is infrequent or she does not alter her behavior to avoid it."
The court also highlighted the unique parental rights involved, writing that Schaub "has an interest in guiding her child's religious upbringing and has standing to challenge actions that seek to 'establish a religious preference affecting' her child."
FFRF and a parent previously won a similar case against the nearby Connellsville Area School District.
"If anybody has suffered injury by the presence of a Ten Commandments monolith at this community high school, it is Marie Schaub and her daughter, whose lives and education have been disrupted just for speaking up for the First Amendment," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're delighted that reason — and the Constitution — have prevailed, and look forward to winning this case at the district level as we won the Connellsville case."
The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings on Schaub's claims and remanded for consideration of whether FFRF has standing on the basis that Schaub was a member when the suit was filed.
FFRF will be honoring Schaub at its upcoming 39th annual national convention at the Wyndham Grand Downtown in Pittsburgh on the weekend of Oct. 7-9. Schaub, the target of community wrath, will be receiving FFRF's "Atheist in Foxhole Courage Award." She will share the podium with such noted speakers as physicist and science educator Lawrence Krauss, Tuft University philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, author Susan Jacoby and Pennsylvania's own author Lauri Lebo, author of The Devil in Dover about the Intelligent Design trial.