Six organizations this month joined the multiyear legal battle to remove a Ten Commandments' monument from Valley Junior-Senior High School in New Kensington, Penn.
The lawsuit was originally waged from an atheist parent who refused to send her daughter to school due to the monument's presence on the school grounds. The monument was donated to the school district by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s, part of a nationwide movement in response to the 1956 release of the movie, "The Ten Commandments." The lawsuit now will carry into 2016.
Joining the lawsuit filed in 2012 by Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, New Kensington-Arnold School District resident Marie Schaub and her teenage daughter, are the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, The Sikh Coalition, and the Union for Reform Judaism, reports Trib Total Media.
The case hinges on alleging violations of the Constitutional prohibition on government endorsement of religion.
U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled in July that Schaub and her daughter don't have standing in the case because they didn't prove they came into "direct, regular, and unwelcome contact" with the monument, reports the Trib. Because of the lack of standing, McVerry dismissed the case without ruling on the core issue of whether the monument violates the Constitution.
Schaub, her daughter and the Freedom From Religion Foundation appealed McVerry's decision to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Every morning, high school students in the NKASD (New Kensington-Arnold School District) walk past the six-foot tall, granite Ten Commandments Monument. Its stone-carved letters proclaim to all: I AM the LORD thy God," states the foundation's legal brief on Dec. 10 by attorney Marcus Schneider.
"To prevent her daughter (identified as Doe 1 in legal documents) from walking in the shadow of this imposing monolith, Marie Schaub initiated this case when her daughter was two years away from attending VHS. When August 2014 arrived and the case remained unresolved, Schaub and her family made the difficult decision to remove her daughter from her home school district to avoid the coercive effect that Appellants believe the Monument conveys."
Although Schaub's daughter is attending a different school and not coming into daily contact with the monument, they said the family would have kept her at Valley High School if the monument were gone.
Schneider argues that Schaub and her daughter continue to deal with the burdens associated with this decision at the time of this appeal, especially if the student decides to attend the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, which shares a campus with Valley.
Schneider states the courts have two ways of resolving the issue: injunctive relief by removing the monument or through paying nominal damages - compensating Schaub for the expense of sending her daughter to another school.
New Kensington-Arnold School District officials have not yet filed a response to the appellants' argument for an appeal, reports the Trib. For more than 50 years the circumstances of the donation and the monolith's presence at Valley have been cited by the district as evidence that the monument has a historical and secular purpose, not a purely religious one.
Trib reader Brian Westley asked Monday: "Why does the school district insist on fighting this? It's clear from other lawsuits that the school district is violating the religious rights of students by pushing religion on them -- I suppose they want to teach students that it's OK to break the law as long as you can get away with it."
Another reader, Jim Adams, asked Monday: "How is this pushing religion on students???? The 10 commandments are the basis of our judicial system...besides the so-called wall of separation was meant to protect religion from the govt, not the other way around."
Richard Hoover stated he thinks these groups should pay for this, "so maybe it will become too expensive for them and stop clogging the courts with frivolous lawsuits."