Virginia Families Sue Over Ten Commandments In Classrooms
A county in the far southwest corner of Virginia is the latest battle ground in the ongoing battle over the separation of church and state.
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.