FFRF, plaintiff get victory after years-long lawsuit
FFRF is delighted to announce the successful settlement of a longstanding federal lawsuit challenging a 6-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania public high school.
FFRF, along with a student and parent (Marie Schaub), filed suit in September 2012. Schaub, an atheist, withdrew her daughter from Valley High School in the New Kensington-Arnold School District because of the monument that her daughter had to pass by every day to get into the school. Her daughter then attended public high school elsewhere in the district.
U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry dismissed the New Kensington challenge in July 2015, ruling that because Schaub and her child were no longer exposed to the decalog monolith, they did not suffer injury or 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 also will pay attorneys' fees of $163,500, of which more than $40,000 will go to FFRF for its role as co-counsel.
"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 enough 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 was local attorney Marcus B. Schneider, with FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott serving as co-counsel.