Valley High School’s Ten Commandments Monument Needs to Be Removed

How would you like to see this when you walk into your public high school every day?

That’s the Ten Commandments monument sitting outside Valley High School in New Kensington, Pennsylvania (not far from Pittsburgh).

How does that even *happen*?! (Won’t someone think of the lawsuits?!)

The Freedom From Religious Foundation is — They sent a letter (PDF) to the district’s superintendent on Tuesday telling him to remove the monument immediately:

In addition to the unconstitutional purpose, prominent placement of the Ten Commandments monument at the school constitutes an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, in this case, the religious edicts of Catholicism. Any student will view a permanent 6-foot tall monument in front of the school entrance as being stamped with the district’s approval

This is a particularly egregious violation so please inform us at your earliest convenience in writing of your plan to rectify this matter and the date at which you plan to remove this unconstitutional monument. We look forward to an immediate reply.

The FFRF letters points to court case after court case in which Ten Commandments monuments on public property were found to be illegal — they’re definitely not allowed on public school property, so I can’t wait to see how the school plans to defend this…

The Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the monument to the school. It’s not their first time doing something like this.

Now it’s time for our side to push back.

(Thanks to Stephen for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Ndonnan

    Oh dear, here we go again,remember what yesterdays post for  the reason rally, its about saving people from all the abuse and trauma in the world,thats great,we all agree,but move on from the petty drama queen antics,your trying to raise your profile in a friendly,helpful,positive way.This wont cut it guys.

    • Bill Santagata

      What are you talking about?

    • Marguerite

      You think objecting to the raising of religious monuments on public land is a petty concern? That just goes to show how much more consciousness-raising remains to be done, doesn’t it?

    • Heidi McClure

      Actually, I’m trying to get people to realize that Christian privilege is illegal and unconstitutional. This will totally cut it.

    • David Croteau

      This is not petty. No Government body can endorse any particular religion. It is illegal and discriminatory. It eats away at the rights of ALL people. By defending the law, and taking this obviously illegal sculpture down, ALL people are being defended.

    • David Croteau

      You know what won’t cut it? Telling us to be good little minorities, turn our heads down and keep our mouths shut while the “Real Americans” are doing things.

      • Ndonnan

        On issues like this,you pretty well sum up how most people would feel David.

    • Drew

      If you think that the ongoing endorsement of religion isn’t a serious problem, you haven’t yet begun to understand secularism.

      • Ndonnan

        Secularism will only take man back to his most basic level,that of self.Thats why the teachings of Jesus were and still are so radical,they are at odds with mans natural instinct,that of self preservation.The 10 commandments that atheism finds so offensive ,though instilled in most cultures as a basic set of standards,are a challenge to what most people would rather do,and that is do what is good for me.

        • Russ Painter

          Wow, if that’s what you think the bible is about, you’d really love Buddhism.   Do some comparative religion study – the Jesus character is in no way unique.

        • Rich Wilson

          On the contrary, Christians think ‘man’ was made in God’s image, and has a special chosen role.

          Secularism recognize that we are just one of many thousands of species, on just one rather smallish planet around one very regular  star in the outer reaches of yet an other of countless trillions of galaxies.

          Humans are a social species, and as such have evolved social rules.  Humans who are only out for themselves are sociopaths, and don’t tend to do well, no matter what their religious beliefs are.

          • Rwlawoffice

            Regardless of whether you belief that we are one of many and are the same as all other animals on the planet, in the end it just comes down to self.  Even the evolutionary explanations of why we are social are based upon self preservation.  

            • TiltedHorizon

              Getting into heaven, avoiding hell, this means doing “good” in Christian terms is based upon self preservation and self interest. 

              If this was not the case, there would not be a need to define what punishments and rewards await your eternal soul in the bible. It would simply be enough to say, do so because god says it is right. 

              • Rwlawoffice

                Sorry but salvation in the Christian faith is not based at all upon works.  It is based upon belief.  Works do nothing for you so that is not the motivation at all.   Actually your last statement is closer to being correct.  We are taught not to sin in order that we may become more like Christ, not because we will be rewarded with salvation, so it really is like do it because God said it was the right thing to do.

                • TiltedHorizon

                   “Sorry but salvation in the Christian faith is not based at all upon
                  works.  It is based upon belief. ”

                  Sorry, but yes it is. The bible clearly defined works to avoid.

                  If it is purely based on belief then, for example, those who are homosexual can remain homosexual, as long as they believe in god.

                  If works have no bearing, then any action is permissible, as long as one is truly sorry on their deathbed. 

                • Rwlawoffice

                  You need to read Ephesians and Romans. These books clearly teach that we are saved by grace through faith and our works have nothing to do with it and are of no help. You are talking about sanctification not salvation . You are correct, if a homosexual is a believer he will have eternal life regardless of engaging in what the bible refers to as a sinful lifestyle.   being sorry on your deathbed will not cut it.  It is all about belief in Christ and accepting what he did on your behalf.

                • TiltedHorizon

                  “You need to read Ephesians and Romans.”

                  I have, twice and in context with the whole bible. I can try a third but I warn you, each pass I make seems to make me more certain I am right. :)

                  “being sorry on your deathbed will not cut it.”

                  Yet in Luke, the malefactors crucified next to Jesus, one of them is saved on his ‘deathbed’ after asking for forgiveness. (Being sorry)

                  Luke 23:43 (KJV)

                  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

                  So if you agree that a homosexual will not be denied, assuming they accept Christ, then why all the hullabaloo against it?

                • Ndonnan

                  why all the hallabaloo about murder and pedaphillia for that matter???

                • TiltedHorizon

                  Because murder and pedophilia are actual crimes. Just because you think homosexuality is a crime, as evidenced by your willingness to relate it, does not make it so.

                • Rwlawoffice

                  If you read Ephesians 2:6 then you read that we are saved by grace through faith and not be good works.  If you read Romans 4 you saw the same thing argued in the context of Abraham. 
                  Do you disagree with that?

                  As for the thief on the cross, he did not just  say he was sorry he accepted who Christ was and believed in him when he said, christ was without sin.  

                  As for homosexuality, it will not stop a believer from salvation but it is still a moral sin in the Bible  just like other sins.

                • TiltedHorizon

                  Ok. I stand corrected… therefore if works have no bearing, then any action is permissible, as long as one is truly sorry AND “accepts Christ” on their deathbed.

                  Yet in Matthew 7:21 ESV Jesus clearly states:

                  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

                  There is no mention of faith, only abiding by the will of the Father, in context this applies to the “Golden Rule” Matthew 7:12-13 ESV. That is “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”. Which applies to social behavior and welfare, meaning ‘works’ is included. Seems its not good enough to just have ‘faith’.

                • Gretchen Robinson

                  the best way to make a non-believer is make them read the bible.

            • Rich Wilson

              No, evolution is about success of the gene, not success of the individual.  Even if I have no kids, my genes survive if I help my sister’s children survive to have children of their own.

              • Rwlawoffice

                So based upon evolution you are motivated to protect your sister to preserve your genes.  Same self preservation.

            • TCC

              There is no reason why we need religion or “a higher power” to rise above evolutionary instincts. I welcome any argument to that effect, as I have never seen a cogent one made about religion and morality.

        • eric

          Well, it didn’t take long for your true colors to come out.   So that whle ‘petty drama queen antics’ thing was a line.  It really IS about Jesus, the ten commandments, and trying to give our kids a sound moral grounding via a plinth on the school grounds.

          Good to know.  I actually agree with you that that’s what this is about - which, in fact, is what makes it illegal.

        • Gretchen Robinson

          you need to read about Roger Williams, our forgotten (national) founder who called for “a wall” of separation between church and state–to protect the “Garden of the Church” from the crassness of the world. That was 140 year before James Madison. This wall is as important now as it was then and still under attack.

          Check out the book: The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age by Martha Nussbaum.

    • Xeon2000

      Please kindly fuck off. Thank you.

      • Ndonnan

        Said so politely Mr X,though to quote the bible,”Go forth and multiply”, yourself.

    • The Captain

      Yes, upholding the constitution is “petty drama queen antics”. 

    • Justin Miyundees

      The chorus is “no one’s forcing anyone to look at it”.  The “let’s just roll over and take it” verses doesn’t come until the third act but thanks for cranking up the bandwagon early.

    • Rich Wilson

      While we’re passing out free advice here, I have some for you.  You would do well to learn how to construct a complete sentence, including correct grammar and spelling.  We all make mistakes, but I can’t recall a single message from you that isn’t riddled with errors.  I know it’s petty, and I don’t usually bother being grammar cop, but I figure it’s about on par with your advice.

      • Ndonnan

        like i said petty people,you might be amazing with words and perfect grammer,but yep the reasoning and logic is like my spelling.In my job its not a required skill,but im working on it

  • Bill Santagata

    Wow not even remotely legal. If the school department is stupid enough to bring this to court, the judge will most likely grant the FFRF’s request for summary judgment…the judge won’t even hold a trial.

  • Marguerite

    I take it this monument is recent, and can’t hide behind the “history” excuse of the banner? It astounds me that stuff like this gets put up, and parents don’t even complain. As I said before, I wasn’t thrilled (even as a Lutheran, which I was at the time) when my local school system put up “In God We Trust” signs in the wake of 9/11. I didn’t complain because it’s hard to argue the national motto, unfortunately. But the Ten Commandments? On public land? That’s is indeed egregious.

    • Bill Santagata

       The “history” excuse wouldn’t even apply here. First of all, “history” was not even a dispositive qualification in the Van Orden decision…the Court took the history of the monument into consideration, but this could not in and of itself uphold its constitutionality. Justice Breyer, in his plurality opinion (which determined the outcome of Van Orden), made a list of all the qualities that taken together upheld that specific monument. One of these was the fact that this monument was surrounded by other, non-religious monuments accepted by the State of Texas on a religion-neutral basis contributed by organizations that had long-standing ties with the state, and that the monument makes it clear who was the donating party.

      Van Orden also explicitly mentions that such “precedent” (as a plurality opinion its precedential value is scant) would never be applicable in a public school, which has a different and much stricter Establishment Clause standard.

      The fact that Cranston relied on Van Orden EXCLUSIVELY as the sole precedent in their favor showed the weakeness of their case.

      • Marguerite

        I wasn’t trying to suggest that “historical value” constituted a valid legal exception, but it was certainly one of the arguments put forward by the advocates of the prayer banner. But if I’m reading this correctly, this isn’t even “historical”– it appears to be fairly recent. How is it that at least a few parents don’t take it upon themselves to complain when this sort of thing is erected? I certainly would.

  • Ggsillars

    If this monument has the same positive, uplifting effect on Valley High students that the prayer banner had on Cranston High School West students (i.e., none), we can expect another nasty fight from people who care everything about symbols and nothing about ideas.

  • Gunstargreen

    Pennsylvania is just as bad as most of the south these days. I feel like I’m constantly fighting for the first amendment in letters to my local paper.

    • The Militant One

      Pennsylvania was once described by a former governor as “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between”. Most of rural PA comfortably fits the stereotype of the “god ‘n’ guns” redneck mentality.

      • dauntless

        This is true. I am currently attending a university in central Pennsylvania and I am constantly appalled at how these kinds of stories pop up all over the state. You would think that things would have changed after the Dover ordeal, but this stuff still happens.

        Hopefully the threat will be enough to wake up the school board, but instead of case files, the FFRF should have sent election numbers. The fact that every schoolboard member in Dover who supported creationism lost their seat due to losing so much taxpayer money should be a motivating factor to any schoolboard. If officials feel that defending their religion takes a higher priority than spending taxpayer money legally and responsibly, they get the axe, even (or especially?) within conservative communities.

      • The Captain

        Every time I end up in rural PA I get blown away at the amount of Rebel Flags I see from people who have lived there for generations. It’s just so much stupid it hurts.

    • Tony

      You’ve got that right.  I won’t be surprised if our legislature adopts “Onward Christian Soldiers” as our state song.

  • Sarah Venhartly

    Wow.  It is just there, alone.  Not even an attempt to mix it with secular or historic documents.  There is no excuse for this display, no matter how long it has been on the school property. 

  • Yamil Baez

    Is there more information regarding this donation in terms of how long ago it was done and why to this particular high school?  I agree that this is not a petty matter and in fact provides a rather tangible way to have meaningful discussions regarding our country.

  • John

    Wow.  This is in the area where I grew up.  Didn’t go to Valley.  Be interesting to see how this one goes. 

  • atoswald

    I just don’t understand why these people insist on wasting money. I am sure they are aware of the legal lines that have been crossed. If they truly wanted to help this school, the money could have gone to the upkeep or improvement of athletic or music equipment … every school can use and appreciate that. If this was all about the damned monument, donate it to a private school or a church.

  • They’reAllTheSame

    How long before this “attack on christianity ” is covered on faux new?? I know that some of these cases seem controversial, key word : seem

    How do people still not understand the blatant constitution violation at hand in a case such as this? The ignorance level of people that see this as a religious attack and simultaneously “love” our constitution is flat out infuriating.

  • Frothsloth

    There’s another FOE Ten Commandments monument in Allegheny County’s South Park. 

  • Annie

    On the website for the school, the principal writes, “We continue to evolve as a school, serving the diverse communities of
    Arnold and New Kensington. We strive to keep our rich traditions alive
    and look to foster and enhance an equally rich learning environment.”

    I was excited when I read they continue to evolve as a school, as surely that means they would want to change to welcome all students… but then I got to the “rich traditions” part… rarely a good sign.

    • BenFromCA

      Tradition is nothing more than institutionalized ignorance.

  • Rwlawoffice

    The posting of the Ten Commandments has not always been seen by the courts as a violation of the constitution. So this is not a clear cut violation.  

    • Sarah Venhartly

       The letter from FFRF discussed this very point.  “Although the Supreme Court allowed a long-standing Ten Commandments monument on government property in one unique context, the Court made clear that such displays in public schools are
      unconstitutional.”   This at public school.  Therefore, it is unconstitutional.  It is clear cut.

      • Rwlawoffice

         I am sure you are refering to the Stone case that dealt with the Ten Commandments inside of classrooms.  Whether that will be followed here not so clear cut in light of the more recent rulings.

        • Sarah Venhartly

          The letter from FFRF (linked in the main post) refers to Van Orden v. Perry, which is the one decision that allowed the ten commandments to remain on government land in Austin TX.  In this decision, Justice Breyer stated it was ok because “The [Austin] display is not on the grounds of a public school, where, given the impressionability of the young, government must exercise particular care in separating church and state.”  That seem pretty clear to me.  Public School.  No Commandments allowed.

        • Rich Wilson

          What about Van Orden v. Perry

          This case, moreover, is distinguishable from instances where the Court has found Ten Commandments displays impermissible.  The display is not on the grounds of a public school, where, given the impressionability of
          the young, government must exercise particular care in  separating church and state.

  • Ed Janison

    Wow, I used to live not far from there, and i never saw that plaque.  Can it be seen from the street?

    I hope you get it removed.

  • Autumn

    I saw “Valley High” and all I could think was, “Goooooooo Bayside!”

  • Russ Painter

    Here’s a link to a local newspaper article about it.  Apparently this was given to the school over 10 years ago.  The article is not exact.

    I grew up across the river from this school.  I hope the people in charge are smart enough to not waste the public’s money on a law suit.  That area really can’t afford to have less money available for education.

    • Russ Painter

      Another article gives a more precise date of 1957.

      Indeed 55 years is “more than a decade ago”, and even before the supreme court ruled on this issue which may at least partially excuse when they did it in the first place since it wasn’t so clearly illegal then.

      And it looks like the christards running the school are up for a fight. That’s ok, our side always enjoys an easy win. Too bad for the kids who’s school is going too lose a load of money, or the local residents who’s taxes will be raised to pay the lawyers.  It seems to be a pattern1) School does something illegal
      2) School board refuses to make it right (with local residents support)
      3) They get sued, and lose a butt-load of money
      4) Local residents are angry at the school board for wasting their money (raising their taxes), and vote them out next chance they get.
      They never seem to learn that angry mobs just aren’t very clever.

  • Sarah Venhartly

    The School Superintendent is “unhappy” and meeting behind closed doors to decide how to respond, according to the local press. 

  • Juliabvbuv

    Email and ask them to remove it

  • guest

    I doubt the kids that go to that school ever thought about what was there at all until someone decided it ‘had to go’  While I don’t agree these things should be put up, if it’s already been there 10 years I don’t think  anyone should be throwing a fit about it coming down now, unless they are willing to pay for the expense of having it moved.

  • TheBirdWatcher

    Hemant…I believe you are faking…would you be willing to take a lie detector test confirming that you are an Atheist…I can’t wait to see you fail the test.

    • Rich Wilson

      Mr. Massery…I believe you are faking…would you be willing to take a lie detector test confirming you watch birds…I can’t wait to see you fail the test.

  • Queenpcf

    I am going to chime in since I live in this city and my kids all went to Valley HighSchool. The statue was donated over 57 years ago. It is not near the main entrance of the school. In fact most kids didnt really  even know it was there . At the time this community was largley made up of italian immigrants and so I am sure the gift so long ago over 57 years ago, most likely was very meaniful back then when there was prayer in school and you said the pledge of alligiance things like that. I understand the seperation of church and state and so I get it that we can no longer have prayer in school or show favortism to religion.  What I don’t get is this need of atheist backed organizations to go from school to school and remove artwork that is a part of an historical moment in time when 60 years ago you did have prayer in school or that was when the school was built. These artists took pride in their work. Why do we have to appreciate so much history in museums and behind glass walls. Cant we just appreciate it for what it is, a part of hisory for how things were at schools back in the old days/  Are we so insecure in our beliefs we have to rip into others. If you are secure with your beliefs in atheism or what ever you believe in jewish muslim anything cant you just appreciate the beauty of the statue.  Both my daughter and my sons best friends are atheists. One was the valedictorian at Valley HighSchool one was the President of Valley HighSchool. Neither one felt intimidated or threatened to walk the HighSchool or felt like Valley chose Christianity as their primary belief system. If anything it was the opposite Religion wasn’t really  talked about in that way. Everyone knows the statue was something donated so long ago. Nobody here feels the need to destroy the property because there is no problem.  Again this is not near the entrance like the article states but near the entrance to the gym and nothing is in the school to promote this. Again I ask you guys why are you so threatend by the 10 commandments statue. Are people demanding it be removed because it is hurtful to them in some way do they feel threatened in some way or are they doing it because they can. Hm….. Pretty Sad

    • Delfield

       Thank you for the local view Queenpcf.  I agree.  This seems a lot of energy to spend on a monument that stands in front of one of the side entrances and was put in place with the best of intentions 57 years ago.

    • Aklcmarie

      I live in the district as well… If you can appreciate this “work of art” at a public school then you can certainly appreciate it in an appropriate place that isn’t funded with tax dollars. Thank you.

      • PA Year of the Bible

        If you live in the district, it is important for you to help find a student there (either in the high school or middle school) who is willing to be a plaintiff (can be a “John Doe” anonymous plaintiff), and have them contact FFRF promptly.

    • Lynette

      I went to Valley High School for 4 years (9th – 12th) and I didn’t even know that statue was there.  Nobody ever talked about it or mentioned that there was a problem with it being there.  Now all of a sudden it’s an issue.  Get a life people!

    • eric

      What I don’t get is this need of atheist backed organizations to go from school to school and remove artwork that is a part of an historical moment.

      Do you get that this particular artwork might send the message to students that the school (and thus, government) endorses the ten commandments? 

      Are we so insecure in our beliefs we have to rip into others.

      In my opinion, the insecure people are the ones who need to put up monuments and then argue that they must be kept in place.  If you are secure in your beliefs, why do you need a great big honking marble plinth of them?

      Nobody here feels the need to destroy the property because there is no problem. 

      Don’t worry, that almost never happens.  If FFRF wins, the most likely outcome is that this precious historical  landmark will be moved (reverently) to private land.

  • Barbredin


  • Rob Goergen

    This is another attempt by a non religious group with an agenda. Since these newly popular and empowered groups have come to light recently , they are doing their best to remove all public references to any faith.  It seems that no matter how old the monument , or what the prevalent  direction of the country was at the time of building these monuments and plaques, these organizations feel its their mission to remove all of these, retroactive to the beginnings of this country . Some of these are historical and reflect  what the tone of the country was at the time they were built.  To put this in perspective, how would these groups be treated in Italy or Israel, which have millions of public historical religious monuments and historical landmarks , that are on public property? Will they go to Israel next ? No, they operate here , where their agenda will succeed. Nothing but anti history and anti religious people with nothing better to do. And as far as the first amenment is concerned :
     In the school prayer cases of the early 1960s, (Engel v. Vitale and Abington School District v. Schempp), aid seemed irrelevant; the Court ruled on the basis that a legitimate action both served a secular purpose and did not primarily assist religion. In Walz v. Tax Commission, the Court ruled that a legitimate action could not entangle government with religion; in Lemon v. Kurtzman, these points were combined, declaring that an action was not establishment if
    the statute (or practice) has a secular purpose;its principal or primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion; andit does not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

    This monument does not advance religion, and this school has a secular purpose.  It should be ruled a historical emplacement , and this issue would be moot.

    • notoriousactivist

      A Ten Commandments monument does not advance religion???  “Thou shalt not have other Gods before me” has a secular purpose???   I’d like to know what you’ve been smoking.

      • Rich Wilson

        Not to mention the ‘secular purpose’ applies to the monument, not the school.  I’d love to know what the secular purpose is for the monument.

  • Gator

    I went to school here and graduated in 2010. The statue has been there since i was a freshman and who knows when it was originally put there. I dont believe it should be taken down. Nobody has ever said anything about it until now.

    If you dont believe in god, just dont read the stuff on the statue? or go to another high school..?  you have choices, noone is forcing you to do anything.

    Also, why is it when some religious thing comes up this school all of a sudden gets attention. Noone gives a crap about how this school has one of the lower graduation rates around, had problems with drugs, and the teaching staff doesnt help students at all, atleast in my experience as a student there.

  • Cira22

    I am not A Christian. I am Pagan, and I am not offended by this monument in the least bit. I have a child that Attends Valley, and I live walking distance from the school.  Here is the deal though. Seperation formn Church and State simply means the state cannot puch or enforce the belief of ONE specific religion on it’s people. Id doesn’t mean there can’t be religious things displayed on Government property. What this ALSO means is that if another group gifted a monument to the school that represented another religion, the school would not be able to turn it down and ONLY display the Christian monument. THAT is when it would become wrong. The government, including schools has to treat all religious paths equally. If my Pagan group were to gift Valley High school with a Pentacle monument that read “An it Harm none, Do what you Will”…and they didn’t display it then I would have a problem with the school ONLY displaying the 10 commandments.  I also bet that there would be a public OUTCRY to remove the pentacle monument from the school property.