After an atheist group complained, a Ten Commandments plaque that had been displayed at an Ohio middle school for almost 100 years was removed.
CBN notes that the complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) was triggered by a disgruntled parent of a child at Welty Middle School in New Philadelphia. FFRF’s April 12 letter stated that the plaque was a “flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” adding, “The district’s promotion of the Judeo-Christian bible and religion over nonreligion impermissibly turns any non-Christian or non-believing student into an outsider. Schoolchildren already feel significant pressure to conform to their peers. They must not be subjected to similar pressure from their schools, especially on religious questions.”
As the Times-Reporter noted, New Philadelphia Schools Superintendent David Brand issued a statement explaining why the district complied with the demand for the plaque’s removal and argued that the district simply could not afford to challenge FFRF:
Rather than meeting with the District to begin a dialogue, FFRF sent a letter from its office in Wisconsin and then used the local media to further the issue. Since receiving the letter, the District has gathered more information, listened to interested community members, and reviewed its options. As background, the plaque was a gift from the Class of 1926 to the District in 1927. To the best of its knowledge, the District believes the plaque has been displayed in the District ever since. With over 90 years on display, the plaque is recognized as part of the tradition and history of New Philadelphia City Schools.
While the plaque is a well-established and historic piece of New Philadelphia City Schools history, the laws of the United States are pretty clear regarding the display of the Ten Commandments in a school setting. To preserve the plaque, the District would need to overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1980. Additionally, the District would need to become the first public school to successfully defend a Ten Commandments display in a school setting.
Despite offers from local law professionals to help the district, the ‘costs’ of defending are substantial. In addition to funding multi-year litigation, the District will divert staff, time, and energy from the District’s true purpose — student learning. Even more troubling, if the District’s case is unsuccessful as all other school cases have been, FFRF can seek for the District to pay FFRF’s legal fees, which have in at least one instance, exceeded $900,000.00. Clearly, challenging the issue legally would be an enormous risk and burden to the local taxpayers.
The District will review the process to donate the plaque to preserve the history of the 92-year-old Ten Commandments plaque. Furthermore, rather than engaging FFRF in an action where the community’s resources are at stake, the District will consider filing an amicus brief in a forthcoming case on the matter. While members of the District do not agree with FFRF’s conduct, the District believes acting on its own terms is the most effective way to oppose FFRF and to continue to serve its students.
The Western Journal noted regarding FFRF:
What the group does is descend upon a school district. After usually just a single complaint from an individual, they wage a media war against the entity in question. They turn their lawyers loose and — if the entity isn’t inclined toward a protracted court case — get what they want.
The case that Brand is referencing, by the by, is Stone v. Graham. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court declared that a Kentucky law that posted a copy of the Ten Commandments in every classroom was in violation of the establishment clause.
The plague was a gift from the class of 1926.