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Virginia Families Sue Over Ten Commandments In Classrooms

A group of families in Giles County, Virginia, located in the far southwestern corner of the state, are suing the school board over the posting of the Ten Commandments in all of the county’s classrooms:

GILES COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) – Two Giles County families have come forward to pursue legal action against the Giles County School system for the posting of the Ten Commandments in its schools.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, confirmed the Wisconsin-based group is planning to go forward with legal action.

She said the lawsuit would likely be filed through the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s attorney would act as co-counsel.

However, Gaylor said nothing has been filed yet and the language is being perfected.

The group and the ACLU plan to seek a protective order to keep the families’ names confidential.

Gaylor said the families have students in Giles County Schools and came forward in the last few weeks.

The Commandments had been posted in classrooms in the county until the end of last year, when they were removed after the school board was advised that their presence constituted a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Despite this warning, however, the board voted last month to reverse that decision:

GILES COUNTY, VA (NBC) – Virginia’s Giles County School Board has voted unanimously to put the Ten Commandments back in schools.

The commandments were in the schools for more than a decade before being removed last month.

An attorney representing the “Freedom from Religion Foundation” wrote a letter to the superintendent saying it was unconstitutional.

More than 100 people showed up Thursday to fight that decision. Pastor Shahn Wilburn from Riverview Baptist Church was one of them.

“When you walk by and read, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ if you were in Littleton, CO, and Columbine High School it would mean something to you today,” he told the school board.

After hearing from community members the board voted for the Ten Commandments to return to schools.

The legal issues here aren’t even close. In Stone v. Graham 449 U.S. 39 (1980). the Supreme Court declined to hear that a Kentucky statute mandating the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms was an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause. In that case, the Court held:

This Court has announced a three-part test for determining whether a challenged state statute is permissible under the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution:

“First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion . . . ; finally the statute must not foster ‘an excessive government entanglement with religion.’” Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 403 U. S. 612-613 (1971) (citations omitted). If a statute violates any of these three principles, it must be struck down under the Establishment Clause. We conclude that Kentucky’s statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school rooms has no secular legislative purpose, and is therefore unconstitutional.

(…)

The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one’s parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. See Exodus 20:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21. Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord’s name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day. See Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:6-15.

This is not a case in which the Ten Commandments are integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like. Abington School District v. Schempp, supra at 374 U. S. 225. Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no such educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.

Under this standard, the actions of the Giles County School Board are clearly unconstitutional, to the point where one wonders if they even bothered to consult legal counsel before making the decision to do this last month. If they had, they would’ve saved themselves a lot of grief, and some not insubstantial legal bills that will be incurred in defending themselves from a lawsuit that is, in the end, a slam dunk for the Plaintiffs.

H/T: Timothy Watson on Twitter

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. [...] Via OTB, another Ten Commandments suit: [...]

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  2. deathcar2000 says:

    this i dare say this never gets old. some people cant nail themselves to the cross fast enough. the school board will now assume the position of the embattled minorty (ala Ex-Judge Moore). louldly proclaim the forces of satan will not move them from this their most righteous of duties to God and Country tm (and the republican party)…

    Que the harps and tiny violins, there’s a new martyr in town!

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  3. Axel Edgren says:

    Public schools would not exist were it not for tax-payer money. The religious frivolousness *goes*.

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  4. Ernieyeball says:

    I demand that every Holy House in The United States post the U.S. Constitution where all can see.
    Special prominence shall be given to Art.VI. “This Constitution,..shall be the supreme Law of the Land…”.

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  5. floyd says:

    Suppose for a moment that the plaintiffs are right and their is no God…. they are then, by definition, only advocating censorship, allowing quotes from Aristotle and Shakespear while rejecting quotes from Moses and Paul. This is,of course, a faux pax compared to the fact that their premise is in error.

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  6. Ernieyeball says:

    Where do the plaintiffs state “their (sic) is no God” ?

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  7. george says:

    > Suppose for a moment that the plaintiffs are right and their is no God…. they are then, by definition, only advocating censorship, allowing quotes from Aristotle and Shakespear while rejecting quotes from Moses and Paul. This is,of course, a faux pax compared to the fact that their premise is in error.

    Kind of an interesting point; in fact religious writing is a huge part of human history and culture, and it might be a good thing to have it up in every school – you’d just want to make sure that the quotes came from a very wide range of religions, and not just one.

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  8. michael reynolds says:

    george:

    I agree. Quotes from the koran it is. Think floyd will bite?

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  9. deathcar2000 says:

    thats enough Mr. eyeball (if that is your real name). it’s clear you hate both your country and baby Jesus. you have been found guilty of crime against the internet and will be lanched via rocket into the sun…..may Al Gore have mercy on you’re(sic) soul.

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  10. MM says:

    “When you walk by and read, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ if you were in Littleton, CO, and Columbine High School it would mean something to you today,” he told the school board.

    As someone who lived in Littleton at the time and knew teachers, staff and students who worked at Columbone at that time , I say this with all the respect you deserve Pastor Shahn Wilburn from Riverview Baptist Church: GFY.

    Those kids were not going to walk into the cafeteria with their guns and their poorly rigged bombs, see the 10 commandments on the wall and say, “Crap dude. What were we thinking? Thanks plaque we walk by but never contemplated until now!”

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  11. legion says:

    What astounds me every time I see one of these ridiculous stories is that we spend so much time & effort trying to make our schools better & find more money for better teachers, supplies, facilities, etc. And yet sub-moronic knuckle-draggers (who, ironically, illustrate the certain primate heritage of humanity) waste millions of dollars every year getting sued over and over and over and over again for violating exactly the same well-ploughed ground. Can’t these board member be taken to court for willfully wasting school money?

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  12. Franklin says:

    Suppose for a moment that the plaintiffs are right and their is no God

    Suppose for a moment that the kids are completely free to go to church and learn about the Ten Commandments. Oh, wait, they are.

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  13. Ernieyeball says:

    Humans don’t have souls. That’s something the church invented so they can control ya.
    “Obey ME our your soul will burn in Hell!!!”

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  14. Ernieyeball says:

    ack…”…OR your soul…”

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  15. deathcar2000 says:

    anybody that states that hu-mans dont have soul never listened to a James Brown LP….

    GOod Gawd…..hey. . . . . GetBAAAAAck.!.!.!

    MMMmmmmm. . . . Dontcha……ohhhhh YeAH!

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  16. Ernieyeball says:

    What do u want from someone with a funnel on there…oops…their head?

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  17. MarkedMan says:

    You know, this is a side effect of the elected school board. There are boards that vote all the time throw taxpayer money in the toilet. But the people are just getting what they deserve, because they just keep re-electing them.

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  18. Tony says:

    This is one of those issues that makes me get really amused when I hear my American friends go on about how Britain is so much more secular than the USA. Which isn’t true at all. Britain is more irreligious, which isn’t the same thing. There’s a legal requirement in the UK for schools to host daily collective worship. That is, daily collective Christian worship and, in effect, daily collective Anglican/Protestant worship (unless the school is a Catholic, Muslim or Jewish school). Children from other religious faiths have the option to be excused (which is sometimes taken up, sometimes not). When I was in primary school (age 4-11), the local vicar gave the lesson every Wednesday.

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    Hmm. I just really resent someone pushing their religion at my kids because they hold them captive for 7 hours a day. Seems like a very American attitude to me.

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  20. walt says:

    “You know, this is a side effect of the elected school board. There are boards that vote all the time throw taxpayer money in the toilet. But the people are just getting what they deserve, because they just keep re-electing them.” Perhaps, MM, the people are getting what they DESIRE.

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  21. sam says:

    “You know, this is a side effect of the elected school board.”

    First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards.”

    –Mark Twain

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  22. Bleev K says:

    God told me to skin you alive.

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  23. Tony says:

    “Hmm. I just really resent someone pushing their religion at my kids because they hold them captive for 7 hours a day.”

    Sounds like a fairly creditable attitude to me. I would argue that the British system still works as it does (to the extent that it works) precisely because virtually everyone is now pretty irreligious. I think it this was a more religiously observant country, it would have become a major issue.

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  24. floyd says:

    Gee Ernieyeball, you missed the other two typing errors…. one of them holds a delicious irony!
    Of course your question is facetious.

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  25. floyd says:

    deathcar2000 says:
    “thats enough Mr. eyeball (if that is your real name). it’s clear you hate both your country and baby Jesus. you have been found guilty of crime against the internet and will be lanched via rocket into the sun…..may Al Gore have mercy on you’re(sic) soul.”
    “”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”"”

    No Sarcasm, That is an absolutely brilliant piece of writing, especially that last bit!
    It’s nice to hear here from someone still in possession of a sense of humor.

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  26. Brummagem Joe says:

    I’m a rationalist so I think religion is essentially superstition. That said I have no problem with people enjoying religious observance, my wife is a devout catholic flower arranger, and I join in Episcopalian and Methodist hymns with gusto. But these religious nuts have to push the envelope. Same with abortions. I don’t want women to have abortions, I love kiddywinks, but it’s their decision not that of some fat old white guys.

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  27. Syte says:

    FFRF is jousting at windmills, and should be more tolerant of mainstream America’s beliefs, as we are of theirs. How many religious people are pestering FFRF with frivolous and unconstitutional lawsuits?
    http://sytereitz.com/2011/02/ffrf-jousting-at-windmills/
    http://sytereitz.com/2011/01/freeedom-from-religion/
    http://sytereitz.com/2011/01/freedom-from-religion-foundation-labors-on/

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  28. mantis says:

    FFRF is jousting at windmills, and should be more tolerant of mainstream America’s beliefs, as we are of theirs

    Your view is you should be allowed to push your religion onto the children of others. We will not tolerate that behavior. You can keep your view.

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  29. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    ***I demand that every Holy House in The United States post the U.S. Constitution where all can see.
    Special prominence shall be given to Art.VI. “This Constitution,..shall be the supreme Law of the Land…”.***

    I demand that it be placed in every school, with that other stuff you you said too.Even in colleges. Even online colleges like OTB.

    And the Declaration also. I demand it.

    Now be off you public servants, carry out my will of a people, So let it be written so let it be hung and or posted.

    Heck wit it, I also want it written on every desk, in small print, and give every child a magnifying glass, magnifying glasses are cool.

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  30. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.
    Vladimir Lenin

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  31. Wiley Stoner says:

    The constitution guarantees freedom of religion not freedom from religion. A commenter wrote earlier humans do not have souls. I would say only liberals have no souls. Live well now and we will not be seeing you on the other side.

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  32. sam says:

    ” Live well now and we will not be seeing you on the other side.”

    In heaven, all the interesting people are missing.

    –Nietzsche

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  33. tom p says:

    “The constitution guarantees freedom of religion not freedom from religion. ”

    I always wonder at the intelligence of people who say this.

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  34. Brummagem Joe says:

    Wiley Stoner says:
    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 01:04
    “I would say only liberals have no souls. ”

    As is well known the ownership of souls is exclusive preserve of conservative Republicans. What’s so funny about these people is that the profess christianity while rejecting its central tenets. Even though I’m a rationalist I have no problem with a belief in christianity but it’s prixe fixe not a la carte. In this statement by Stoner what your seeing is essentially the mindset that had Catholics burning jews and protestants as heretics in the 16th century. The American Taliban indeed.

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  35. Alex Knapp says:

    @Wiley,

    ““And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
    – Jesus Christ

    Like Jesus, I question the motives of those who insist on public displays of piety. They seem to me to be driven more by insecurity and groupthink than devotion. It’s not the government’s place to instill a sense of the divine in our children. It has to come from within.

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  36. momintum says:

    Another attempt by religious zealots to infiltrate the public school system to afflict the impressionable minds of today’s youth. Anyone with any amount of common sense should realize this tactic for the abomination it is. Educational institutions are about scientific researches based on experimentations and evaluations not on theocratic indoctrinations infused collectively or individually. The very essence of superstitious jargon considered as fact by panderers and proselytizers presented within the public educational system is criminal to the effects of brainwashing.

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  37. floyd says:

    The pseudo-intellectual prattle engine runs on in closed loop,
    apparently driven by an irrational fear of that which doesn’t exist.
    Talk about superstition and proselytizing! PSHAW!

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  38. Michael says:

    This is my home county. These people are hardly zealots. When I went there I had Bible classes in the school (granted it was the 60s), we had prayer before football games and before lunch every day through high school. The community supports this.

    The first challenge was brought by someone who does not even have kids in the school system. The ACLU had to search for someone to bring this suit.

    Yes, the school board and the county most likely will lose this case. But the postings were offending no one and Giles has just been singled out to prove a point.

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  39. Brian Westley says:

    “Giles has just been singled out to prove a point”

    Yes. To prove that rights are for EVERYONE, not just the religious majority, and that school boards have to follow the constitution like everyone else, instead of acting like a theocracy.

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  40. Ernieyeball says:

    Apparently in Michael’s World some politically undefined “community” can decide to ignore the United States Constitution at their whim. It’s a good bet the first time the plaintiff had no kids at the school was because no parent would want their kids to be subject to the outpouring of christian love that would be bestowed upon them.
    Parents are free to send their kids to religious schools if that’s what they want. They are free to pay for it too.
    Keep religious instruction out of USA public schools.
    VOTE for Secular Schools!

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  41. Michael says:

    Apparently in Ernieyeball’s world, misreading between the lines is a competitive sport.

    I acknowledged that the school board would likely lose a court case. I was merely describing the community where this is an issue.

    The fact remains that the initial complaint came from someone who did not have a child in the county school system. The letter of complaint came from attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Wisconsin. Now how many people in Wisconsin even have clue where Giles County, Virginia is? Heck for that matter how many people on this thread could tell you where Giles is without Google maps?

    The Commandments are displayed in a small frame along with the first page of the Constitution. It is doubtful that most students even realized they were there.

    Now, however, multiple copies are on display because the students are displaying them on their lockers and elsewhere. A majority of the lockers at the high school have the Commandments prominently displayed.

    I can’t wait for the ACLU to have to file the suit to defend the student’s rights of expression.

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  42. Ernieyeball says:

    Ernieyeball sez: Michael, you don’t have to wait!
    THE ACLU FIGHTS FOR CHRISTIANS
    The ACLU fights just as hard for INDIVIDUAL free exercise of religion as the ACLU fights against GOVERNMENT endorsement, sponsorship, or establishment of religion. Despite this fact, many people spread misinformation about the ACLU around the internet, innocently and maliciously, falsely claiming the ACLU is anti-religion or anti-Christian.

    This list of FACTS counteracts that misinformation. These links represent just a few of the many examples of the ACLU defending the free speech and free exercise rights of Christians (for purposes of this list, the word “Christian” means a person who self-identifies as “Christian”).

    In every example, the ACLU is defending the right of a Christian to speak as a Christian or to practice Christianity.

    Here is the current version of this EVER GROWING list:

    ACLU of Colorado Supports Students Wearing Christian Symbols in the Colorado Springs School District

    ACLU-NJ Defends Christian Student’s Anti-Abortion Speech

    ACLU of Tennessee Defends Christian Students’ Right to Preach in Public Park

    ACLU of Virginia Defends Christian Students’ Right to Protest Against ACLU at Public School

    ACLU Defends Christian Students Wearing Anti-Islam Shirts to Florida Public School

    ACLU Fights For Christian Inmate’s Right to Preach

    ACLU of Northern California Fights Law that Got Quakers Fired Over Loyalty Oath

    ACLU Defends Christian Librarian Disciplined for Refusing to Promote Harry Potter

    ACLU Defends Right of Individual Christian to Display Nativity Scene on Public Property

    ACLU Defends Christians Protesting Gay Rights in Florida

    ACLU Champions Religious Freedom Of Mormon College Student

    ACLU Fights for Christian Church’s Mission to Feed the Poor

    ACLU Fights for Christmas Tree

    ACLU Files Suit to Protect Free Speech Rights of Christian Protesting Wal-Mart’s Policy on Gays

    ACLU of Georgia and Baptist Church File Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

    ACLU of Rhode Island Files Appeal on Behalf of Christian Prisoner Barred from Preaching at Religious Services

    ACLU of Michigan Defends Catholic Man Coerced to Convert to Pentecostal Faith in Drug Rehab Program

    ACLU of New Jersey Joins Lawsuit Supporting Second-Grader’s Right to Sing “Awesome God” at Talent Show

    After ACLU Intervention on Behalf of Christian Valedictorian, Michigan High School Agrees to Stop Censoring Religious Yearbook Entries

    ACLU Helps Free New Mexico Street Preacher From Prison

    ACLU of WA Wins Right of Christian Minister to Preach in Spokane Plaza

    ACLU Fights for Baptist Preacher in Illinois

    ACLU Defends Rights of Christian Group to Make Religious Protest at Funerals

    ACLU Backs Christian Abortion Protester in Ohio

    ACLU of Oregon Defends Religious Liberty Of Adventist School Boys Basketball Players

    ACLU Backs Missouri Nurse Penalized for Wearing Cross-Shaped Lapel Pin

    ACLU Defends Christian Street Preacher in Las Vegas

    ACLU Argues for Legal Recognition of Small Christian Church

    ACLU of MA Defends Students Punished for Distributing Candy Canes with Religious Messages

    ACLU of Nebraska Defends Church Facing Eviction by the City of Lincoln

    ACLU Defends Church’s Right to Run “Anti-Santa” Ads in Boston Subways

    ACLU Defends Inmate’s Access to Material from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

    Following Threat of ACLU of Virginia Lawsuit, Officials to Agree Not to Ban Baptisms in Public Parks

    ACLU Defends Families Fighting Removal Of Religious Symbols from Florida Cemetery

    ACLU Supports Right of Iowa Students to Distribute Christian Literature at School

    ACLU Argument In Support of the Display of a Christian Cross in a Public Forum

    ACLU Defends Christian Worker Required to Remove Bible from Desk at Government Job

    ACLU Defends Free Speech Rights of Christians And Others On Main Street Plaza

    ACLU Defends Prisoner’s Rosary Beads

    ACLU Defends Christian Group’s Anti-Abortion Ads On Phoenix Buses

    ACLU Pledges to Back Church in a Zoning Battle

    ACLU of PA Files Discrimination Lawsuit Over Denial of Zoning Permit for African American Baptist Church

    ACLU Offers To Represent Private Prayer on Public Property and

    ACLU Joins Falwell To Fight For Church Incorporation Rights

    This page is maintained by Allen Asch. You can find email contact info at that link if you would like to suggest additions to the list or to make other comments. This page was last updated on October 10, 2010.

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  43. Ernieyeball says:

    I do not now and have never had a child attend a public school in a school district in which I have lived and paid taxes to support said school. If the school board of the Unity Point School District in Makanda Township, Illinois USA in which I live mandated some sort of religious instruction upon their students who are forced by the state to attend said school, I would have them in court faster than shit through a goose. Though childless, I believe I would have standing. They have no business using my tax money for their perceived provincial pursuits. And since we all live in the same country I just might have standing in Giles County, Virginia USA. If your school board can steal citizens tax money for Jesus or Moses or whomever and get away with it then maybe mine might try it too!

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  44. [...] I noted in my original post on this topic, the legal issues here were blindingly clear given the fact that a unanimous Supreme Court had ruled [...]

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  45. Brian Westley says:

    Ask and ye shall receive, Michael:
    ACLU defends Floyd athletes over Ten Commandments

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