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October 7-9, 2016

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the successful settlement of a longstanding federal lawsuit challenging a 6-foot Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania public high school.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, along with a student and parent, Marie Schaub, filed suit in September 2012. Schaub, an atheist, ultimately withdrew her daughter from Valley High School in the New Kensington-Arnold School District because of the monument.

U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry dismissed the New Kensington challenge in July 2015, ruling that Schaub and her child did not have frequent enough contact with the decalog monolith, which meant that they did not have standing to sue over the violation.

In August 2016, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Schaub's legal right to challenge the bible monument. The three- judge panel unanimously found that Schaub's removal of her daughter from the school due to the presence of the monument, and prior contact with it, established their clear injury to sue.

That ruling set in motion negotiations with the school district, which has now agreed to remove the Ten Commandments monument within 30 days. The district's insurer will pay attorneys' fees of $163,500, of which more than $40,000 will go to FFRF for its attorney fees as well as reimbursement for its costs.

"It's been a drawn-out fight but my family and I are grateful to everyone who has helped us finally right a wrong that was committed so long ago," says Schaub, who received FFRF's Atheist in a Foxhole Courage Award at its annual convention last fall in Pittsburgh. "I hope this settlement serves as a lesson and a reminder that the separation of state and church is especially important when in comes to our kids in public schools. The removal of this religious monument will provide a more welcoming environment that will promote equality and neutrality."

FFRF is gratified that reason and our secular Constitution have prevailed.

"The First Commandment alone is reason why public schools may not endorse the Commandments," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Students in our public schools are free to have any god they like, as many gods as they like — or none at all! In America, we live under the First Amendment, not the First Commandment."

In August 2015, McVerry had ruled in favor of FFRF's challenge of a similar marker in front of the a junior high school in Connellsville, Pa. That bible monument was removed in October 2015. 

Representing FFRF is local attorney Marcus B. Schneider, with FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott serving as co-counsel.

FFRF has 27,000 nonreligious members nationwide and chapters all over the country, including 800-plus and two chapters in Pennsylvania.

Nonbelief Relief, a humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters to improve this world — "our only world" — has announced its first donations for 2017.

Its donations to begin off this year are:

• $5,000 to the International African American Museum being built at the site of the Charleston, S.C., wharf where more than 100,000 enslaved Africans were brought through at the main port of entry in North America. The museum, expected to be completed by 2019, will illuminate their lives, history and descendants. "We salute the city, museum board and other donors and visionaries who will make possible this landmark museum of African-American history," says Nonbelief Relief.

• $10,000 to Open Doors for Refugees (via Center for Community Stewardship), which has a $100,000 fundraising goal for 2017 to aid displaced Syrians and other refugees in Madison, Wis. "We hope our gift will send a message of resistance to the ban proclaimed indefinitely by President Trump against Syrian refugees, and the temporary ban against refugees from seven 'Muslim-dominated' nations," announces the secular charity.

• $10,000 to the World Food Program (USA), affiliated with the United Nations, "where needed most to ameliorate starvation, hunger and malnutrition." Many of the starvation "hot spots," such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Yemen have religion-based terrorism, warfare or disruption contributing to starvation, notes Nonbelief Relief. Last year, the charity gave the agency $20,000 for Syrian relief and $10,000 for relief in Sudan.

• $25,000 to the Women's Medical Fund, co-founded by the late Anne Nicol Gaylor, who was the Freedom From Religion Foundation's principal founder. The Women's Medical Fund is an all-volunteer nonprofit based in Wisconsin and is believed to be the longest continuously operating abortion rights charity in the nation. Last year, it helped 782 women or girls without means in the Wisconsin area pay for abortion care. The average help was $330. Wisconsin is one of more than 30 states where women eligible for medical assistance are denied abortion care due to religious objections. The Women's Medical Fund has helped more than 22,000 women since the late 1970s.

Nonbelief Relief was incorporated in 2015, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation as its sole member. A board was created to carry out the donations. For more details, click here.

Nonbelief Relief seeks "to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice on a global scale, whether the result of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious dogma. Such relief is not limited to but includes assistance for individuals targeted for nonbelief, secular activism or blasphemy." 

(Nonbelief Relief will be challenging the disparate Internal Revenue Service rules that exempt churches and church-related charities from public accountability, since they do not file the Form 990 tax return all other (c)(3) organizations, such as FFRF, must file.)

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