ACLU Files Ten Commandments Suit in Virginia

ACLU Files Ten Commandments Suit in Virginia September 19, 2011

The long battle over the display of the Ten Commandments in the schools in Giles County, VA is heading to court. The ACLU filed suit on behalf of three students in the district. Their press release sums up the history of the battle:

For years, Giles County schools posted a framed copy of the Ten Commandments along with the U.S. Constitution, but after complaints from the Freedom From Religion Foundation last fall, the school superintendent ordered them taken down. The school board, however, in a meeting attended by 200 residents urging restoration of the display, voted to overturn the superintendent’s decision. Only after the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened litigation did the school board reverse itself and order the Ten Commandments taken down again. Then, in June, the school board authorized the posting of the Ten Commandments with historical documents. However, Narrows High School is the only school so far to post the display.

It’s the same dodge being used elsewhere, replace the Ten Commandments with a display of “historical documents” that include the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, etc., even though the Ten Commandments clearly doesn’t belong in that context. The ACLU argues, quite rightly, that the history of the decisions made by the school board shows a clear religious intent:

On January 11, 2011, more than 200 clergy and other residents attended the Giles County School Board meeting to express disapproval of the removal of the Ten Commandments. During public comments, citizens stressed the need to keep God in the schools. One speaker said, “We all know that America was founded on biblical beliefs . . . . Our forefathers came to America and fought others for their Christian beliefs (our Christian beliefs).” Another, Pastor Creger, said that “in the past, Christians have not stood up, they allowed Madalyn Murray O’Hair to take prayer out of schools. . . . It was never our forefathers’ idea for the Ten Commandments and for God to be taken out of the system.” Eric Gentry, the chair of the Giles County Board of Supervisors, said that he “grew up with prayer still in the schools . . . . We turned out all right . . . . I talked to all of my board members last night and today. Don’t remove [the Ten Commandments]. We are behind you.” Reverend Shahn Wilburn said that he had been responsible for giving the Ten Commandments displays to the school after the school shootings at Columbine High School. He said, “I have pastored a church for over 30 years and I can tell you that God has never done us a disservice in this county and he’s blessed us with the beauty and all we have so we certainly want to honor him by posting his word in the eyes of our students and all that walk the halls.” …

On March 7, 2011, approximately 200 Giles High School students walked out of class in support of community efforts to restore the displays to the schools. A local radio host led the students in prayers. One student protester said, “God went through so much for us, so we are going through just this little bit today.” Another student said, “This is Giles County and Christ is a big, big, big part of Giles County. For those who don’t like it, go somewhere else.”

That was all taking place when just the Ten Commandments was hanging in the schools. Under threat of lawsuit, the school board then considered a proposal to put up the full “historical documents” display that included the Ten Commandments. And the same religious purpose was obvious:

At a May 19, 2011 Giles County School Board meeting, Mr. Lilly formally presented his proposal to the school board. Approximately 100 citizens were present at the meeting to express support for the proposal, many of them wearing Ten Commandments t-shirts or carrying Ten Commandments posters, and many bused to the meeting by a local church.

On May 20, 2011, citizens held a “Ten Commandments rally” to demand the posting of the Ten Commandments in the Giles County Public Schools. One demonstrator said, “We are strong Christians and are not going to back down…we just want people to know we really need the Ten Commandments in our school system.”

The School Board met again on June 7, 2011. At that meeting, the Board voted 3 to 2 to restore the Ten Commandments displays to Giles County schools. Adopting Mr. Lilly’s proposal, the Board authorized displays that would include the Ten Commandments along with a picture of Lady Justice, the Star-Spangled Banner, the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, the

Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, and the Magna Carta.

The supporters of this policy made it very clear at all times that it was all about introducing students to God, not about teaching about history. Any claim of a secular purpose is clearly a sham. The good thing is that these folks can never shut their mouths. No matter how much the lawyers want to maintain the pretense of a secular purpose, the yahoos know it’s all about forcing their religion on others. That’s what they want to do and that’s the whole point to them — and they aren’t smart enough not to say so publicly. You can read the full complaint here.

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  • Scott Hanley

    The good thing is that these folks can never shut their mouths.

    Amen to that!

  • lexaequitas

    On March 7, 2011, approximately 200 Giles High School students walked out of

    class in support of community efforts to restore the displays to the schools. A local radio host

    led the students in prayers. One student protester said, “God went through so much for us, so we

    are going through just this little bit today.” Another student said, “This is Giles County and

    Christ is a big, big, big part of Giles County. For those who don’t like it, go somewhere else.”

    Even if you allow a secular purpose in learning about a religion, it should be done in a way that does not confuse students that religion is being endorsed. Obviously, these students are confused about what the purpose should be (or, alternatively, they just see what the real purpose is).

  • Doug Little

    I’m sure it has been said before, but I’ll bet you the same people that are pushing for the posting of the 10C’s are also the small government, the country is broke so we have to cut the budget, we don’t know what the Constitution says people.

  • Michael Heath

    Another student said, “This is Giles County and Christ is a big, big, big part of Giles County. For those who don’t like it, go somewhere else.”

    I guess this teaching opportunity went unexploited; probably due to:

    1) The teachers’ are also some combination of stupid, delusional, and ignorant equivalent to the rhetoric by the 200.

    2) The teachers both oppose and understand this students’ and their allies’ position is in direct violation of the principles in the DofI which frame the U.S. Constitution and explicitly laid-out in the Constitution as well, but are afraid for their careers and/or their safety at speaking out.

    3) They share their community’s opposition to the principles of our founding and the U.S. Constitution and instead seek a theocracy while lacking the honesty and integrity to admit this publically.

  • MikeMa

    I’ll bet those christers wouldn’t appreciate a biology lesson in place of a sermon next Sunday at church.

  • plutosdad

    I have been thinking another strategy we could use to argue against this when talking to friends and relatives are by calling it “The Protestant 10 Commandments”.

    Many people of christian faiths don’t realize the Protestant and Catholic versions are different. Pointing this out may help in two ways, for one it may divide the supporters: Catholic and Orthodox and any Jewish people who support these displays will realize they are being cut out and marginalized, and secondly it may further drive home the point that our laws and society are not based on one sect of christian church.

    I have a hard time convincing my Catholic parents that these Evangelicals are not their friends, and will turn on the Orthodox and Catholics once they eradicate all atheist and Muslim speech and rights. Quite obviously to anyone with theological training, when they say we are a “Christian Nation” they really mean “Evangelical Protestant Nation”. Those other groups aren’t Christian.

    I know we should not HAVE to say those things, the idea that everyone enjoys equal rights SHOULD be enough, but sadly it is not. Pointing out it will hurt them as well may help. That is not because they are religious but merely human.

    I was watching the Tudors with the S.O., who thought it was funny they called the Pope the Antichrist and the Catholic Church the Harlot from Revalation. I said I heard that crap in college, they still preach it, and even a pastor Perry met with at his big religious gathering last month said the same thing a few years ago, though he retracted it. She had a hard time believing it since she wasn’t really very religious. I used to go to their churches and listened to it and didn’t really see how horrible it was at the time.

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    I wonder how many of the people who attended the “Ten Commandments rally” have the Commandments prominently displayed in their own homes, where their children can see them every single day. For that matter, how many have them prominently displayed even in their churches? When I was young and churched, all we had was a of stained-glass window displaying Moses with the tablets, but the contents weren’t legible.

    And they need to use the public schools for this?

  • Chiroptera

    Another student said, “This is Giles County and Christ is a big, big, big part of Giles County. For those who don’t like it, go somewhere else.”

    We have a Constitution in this country that guarantees the right not to have our governments endorse any religion. If you don’t like it, then you go somewhere else.

  • Ellie

    I would like to follow both the board and the parents around on Sundays to make sure they are keeping the Sabbath holy. And if not…I’m sure nobody would object to them being placed in stocks in the public square.

    Oddly enough, when I was in school back in the Dark Ages, the Ten Commandments were nowhere on display. Yet, due to the religious education I had in church, I knew they by heart before I was 8 (having to them change slightly when I left the RCC). Apparently, today’s children have either poorer memories, or their parents can’t be bothered with religious education. If the latter, then what is the point of having them in the school anyway?

  • The official Board minutes are posted at their site.

    http://sbo.gilesk12.org/BoardMembers/NewsReleases/News299.htm

    The interesting ones are from 01/20/11, 02/15/11, 02/22/11, 03/15/11, 05/19/11 and, of course, 06/07/11 when they did the deed. They’re going to be powerful evidence for the ACLU.

  • Modusoperandi

    You people make me sick. Stop pushing your so-called “morality” on my children by trying to prevent me from using the State from pushing mine on your children.

    It’s for the best. Really.

    I mean, if we don’t plaster public school walls with the Ten Commandments, who will teach our children (this [Christian] Nation’s most important resource) to do whatever it is the Ten Commandments say to do (or not do), hmmm? Their pastor? Their parents? Come on!

  • Uncle Glenny

    Wouldn’t want to be an out gay atheist in that high school.

    And to think they’re including the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in the display.

  • DaveL

    And to think they’re including the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in the display.

    Duh – it mentions God! I doubt they read any further.

  • Tim DeLaney

    The citizens of Giles County have a rude shock in store for them. When the ACLU shreds them in court (as it certainly will), they will not only have to back down, but also pay the legal fees for both sides.

    If I were the judge, I would also come down hard on school and County officials, and in particular their lawyers, for wasting the court’s time, and the taxpayers’ money, with an issue already decided. One way to do that might be to subpoena every one of them to come to his courtroom personally to hear him read the decision. And I’d make a video of the event to post on Youtube.

  • mostlyharmless

    I wonder how many of the people who attended the “Ten Commandments rally” have the Commandments prominently displayed in their own homes, where their children can see them every single day.

    I’m not sure about in their homes, but as a resident of Giles County, I can tell you that there are certainly a lot of them that have the ten commandments posted on their lawn and stuck on the back of their cars. If you want to see the type of people we’re dealing with, take a look at the comments to this posting from the local newspaper:

    Giles County School Board sued over Ten Commandments

    I can understand why the plaintiffs want to stay anonymous. I can see this getting really ugly.

  • eric

    plutosdad: Many people of christian faiths don’t realize the Protestant and Catholic versions are different.

    Not really. There’s more than 10 distinct phrases in the commandments. Different sects number/group those phrases differently, but all of them have the same ‘complete’ list.

    ***

    Frankly, I think any honest fundamentalist should be clear about their motives. It is far more honorable to vocally disagree with a law, and lose in court, then it is to lie in court to try and make an end run around the law. The first strategy resonates well with stories of the early Christian martyrs, preferring punishment over denial of their faith. The second strategy makes a mockery of those folks’ sacrifices.

    Its also worth making a parallel to other types of civil disobedience. One of the things that separates a civil protester from a mere criminal is (IMO) that the former doesn’t try to hide their breakage of the law. They advertise it, in fact. The point of the protest is to bring people’s attention to some unfair point of law. Criminals do try and hide their illegal acts. So if the fundies want to protest the law instead of being mere criminals, they need to be open and up front about their support for prayer and God in schools. Even if it means losing in court.

  • barbrykost

    Every time I read the phrase “Historical Documents” I think about the move Galaxy Quest and envision the 10 Commandments displayed along side Star Trek scripts.

  • Different sects number/group those phrases differently, but all of them have the same ‘complete’ list.

    That in itself is a problem. Whichever numbering system the board chooses for the Commandments it displays will be conveying a message that that sect/group of sects is favored over others. What are Catholic kids supposed to take away from the government posting a set of Commandments different from the set their church uses?

  • Modusoperandi

    Uncle Glenny “And to think they’re including the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in the display.”

    Oh, come on! With a title like that, it can’t possibly not be on their side!

    eric “Its also worth making a parallel to other types of civil disobedience. One of the things that separates a civil protester from a mere criminal is (IMO) that the former doesn’t try to hide their breakage of the law. They advertise it, in fact. The point of the protest is to bring people’s attention to some unfair point of law. Criminals do try and hide their illegal acts. So if the fundies want to protest the law instead of being mere criminals, they need to be open and up front about their support for prayer and God in schools. Even if it means losing in court.”

    Except that most of the cost, in this case, will be coming out of other peoples’ pockets.

    It’s martyrdom by proxy.

    John Pieret “What are Catholic kids supposed to take away from the government posting a set of Commandments different from the set their church uses?”

    I’m guessing that the people involved don’t give a damn about Roman Catholics.

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