CONNELSVILLE, Pa. – A Pennsylvania junior high school is moving a Ten Commandments stone monolith from its campus after a $64,000 court battle resulted in a judge ruling the display unconstitutional.
“It doesn’t matter what the cost was, it was a fight that needed to be fought,” David Show, organizer with the group Thou Shall Not Move, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “That’s something that should not be a problem in our schools.”
Show and others rallied to keep the 3,000-pound Ten Commandments stone monolith at Connellsville Junior High after Connellsville Area School District officials initially covered it with plywood in response to a complaint from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation in the 2012-13 school year, according to the news site.
Amid public backlash, school officials reversed their original plans to move the 4 ½ foot monument to another location, and FFRF sued to get its way. The monolith and numerous others like it were donated to schools by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in the late 1950s in response to the movie “The Ten Commandments.”
The Connellsville monument has stood in front of the school since 1957 — nearly 60 years — and FFRF filed the complaint on behalf of a student who was apparently offended by its presence but no longer attends the school.
A judge in August ruled the monument is unconstitutional, but did not order the district to remove it because the complaining student no longer attends the school. District directors later voted to give it back to the Eagles.
The legal fight ultimately cost the district about $64,000 in legal fees, the Tribune-Review reports.
“Bills obtained through a public records request by the Tribune-Review show that the Pittsburgh law firm Andrews & Price billed the district’s insurance carrier for 400 hours of work related to the lawsuit between October 2012 and December 2014. Solicitor Chris Stern said the bills would be paid by the carrier, School Claims Insurance LLC of New Cumberland,” according to the news site.
“The most costly bill — for 100 hours amounting to $15,351 — accounted for work between July and October 2013. During that period, attorneys held several meetings with school officials and prepared numerous court documents for the case, according to the detailed bills.”
The lawsuit is ironic considering that the U.S. Supreme Court – the highest court in the country – displays the Ten Commandments on its chamber walls, as noted by The National Law Journal.
Regardless, FFRF is gladly gloating about the ruling.
“We warned the school district that we would win,” said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“We always hope that these cases aren’t necessary,” FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott told the Tribune-Review. “It’s too bad that they didn’t follow the law.”
The Connellsville case is similar to one the FFRF filed against another Pennsylvania school district over a similar monument. In that case, resident Marie Schaub, FFRF and numerous other groups argued Schaub’s daughter who does not attend Valley Junior-Senior High School in New Kensington was offended by the monument. The girl’s family filed a lawsuit two years before she would go to the school to shield her from its religious influence, and later opted to send the girl to another school when the case was not yet resolved, TribLive.com reports.
U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry ruled in July the family does not have legal standing to sue because they can’t prove the student came into “direct, regular, and unwelcome contact” with the monument, according to the site.
The family and FFRF are now appealing that ruling, alleging the student was impacted by the monument because she’s forced to attend another school to avoid it.