FFRF Will Challenge Judge’s Ruling in Defense of High School Ten Commandments Monument

This is the Ten Commandments monument sitting outside Valley High School in New Kensington, Pennsylvania (not far from Pittsburgh):

It’s been there since 1957, when it was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. For a long time, no one did anything about it, but a few years ago, several plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to have that display removed. After two of them decided they didn’t want to participate anymore, there were only two plaintiffs left: Marie Schaub and her daughter.

The problem with the case was that neither of them were students at the school — the daughter was in eighth grade when the lawsuit was filed. So “standing” became an issue. (Were they really the right people to bring forward an argument against the monument when it didn’t directly affect them?)

While the Freedom From Religion Foundation said yes on their behalf, the legal system didn’t buy it. Back in July, U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry sided with the District, dismissing the case on the issue of standing:

“Plaintiffs Schaub and (her unidentified daughter) … have failed to establish that they were forced to come into ‘direct, regular, and unwelcome contact with the’ Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of Valley High School,” McVerry wrote in his opinion.

Furthermore, McVerry wrote that Schaub’s sense of “offense” over the monument “seems to have manifested itself only after FFRF became involved in this dispute.”

That’s obviously not true. Schaub only contacted FFRF in the first place because she saw a problem with the monument. But FFRF noted that this was not a ruling on the merits of the case:

“We are disappointed with the mistaken ruling and will discuss an appeal with our attorneys,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

“It is troubling that judges are closing the courthouse door on plaintiffs who simply want government actors to abide by the Constitution,” said Barker.

One thing that was ignored by McVerry was the fact that Schaub “withdrew her child from the school because of the Ten Commandments Monument.” So there was an argument to be made that they were directly affected by the monument’s existence, but that didn’t mean an Appeals Court would agree. (It would be a lot easier if there was a student at the school willing to work with FFRF.)

Still, FFRF decided it was worth the fight. They filed an appeal yesterday, with a decision to be made sometime next year.

“It’s very important to rectify Judge McVerry’s mistaken ruling,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented. “Marie Schaub and her child have endured direct injury due to this illegal endorsement of religion by their school district. Not only is the student compelled to attend another school, at inconvenience and disruption, to avoid the religious monument, but the family has been subjected to communitywide opprobrium. The district essentially has turned them into targets and outsiders in their own school district.

It’s worth noting that a similar Ten Commandments case involving the nearby Connellsville Area School District, was ruled unconstitutional this past August. The District didn’t have to take down the monument, but they eventually chose to do just that, mostly to avoid a harsher punishment in the future.

McVerry was the judge in that case, too.

(Large portions of this article were published earlier)


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