Last June, after a contentious battle that ended in a Ten Commandments banner being taken down, the school board in Giles County, Virginia voted 3-2 to rehang the display, surrounding it with other historical documents.
Is that still government endorsement of religion?
That battle is playing out in the courts right now.
During oral arguments this week, Judge Michael Urbanski offered up a possible compromise as the case goes into mediation:
“If indeed this issue is not about God, why wouldn’t it make sense for Giles County to say, ‘Let’s go back and just post the bottom six?’” Urbanski asked during a motions hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.
“But if it’s really about God, then they wouldn’t be willing to do that.”
Interesting theory. Here are the Commandments that would get cut if both sides accepted the deal:
- I am the Lord thy God, Thou shalt not have strange gods before me
- Thou shalt not make for thyself any graven image
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
- Remember to keep holy the sabbath day
And there are the ones that would remain:
- Honor your father and your mother
- Thou shalt not kill
- Thou shalt not commit adultery
- Thou shalt not steal
- Thou shalt not bear false witness
- Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife
Stephen Hirtle from the Steel City Skeptics doesn’t think this revised version would be any better:
As rules for the students to live by, this list is very odd. How about “Study hard” or “Do not cheat on exams”. More to the point, the Ten Commandments are there not because of what they say, but because of what they imply. They are an arbitrary list of rules that are important to the religious, as they establish the precedent that certain rules transcend humans and come directly from a god. To accept the Commandments is to accept your god as the ultimate decider. The judge even mocked the school board in their disingenuous comments:
He’s right. The revised version isn’t any better than the original. You might as well cut the bits about coveting a neighbor’s wife and committing adultery since it doesn’t directly apply to them. Good luck telling high school students to obey their parents. And it’s more than a bit dispiriting that anyone would have to tell high school students not to kill each other.
If mediation doesn’t work out, the same judge will have to decide the case. From his comments so far, it sounds like he understands this is all about sticking god into the public schools — not showcasing a display of historical documents for students — and he will likely vote it down. Let’s hope that’s the case anyway.
If the school board loses the case, they run the risk of having to pay over $100,000 in court costs to the ACLU.
Incidentally, an anonymous student from Giles County’s Narrows High School is the plaintiff:
In court documents, the Associated Press reported, the student spoke of feeling compelled to “hide participation in this lawsuit from my closest friends and the person I am dating.”
“Filing this lawsuit has not been easy, and I would not have done it if I were not genuinely disturbed by the Ten Commandments in the school,” the student said in the court statement…