The ACLU of Virginia and the Freedom From Religion Foundation today warned the Giles County School Board not to follow through with a proposal to mount displays featuring the Ten Commandments and several historical documents in public schools. The two religious rights groups say they intend to file a lawsuit challenging the displays if they are authorized by the school board.
“The Ten Commandments were clearly placed in Giles County public schools to promote religion, and that violates the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “School board members can’t now camouflage their religious purpose by hiding the Ten Commandments among other documents.”
According to recent news reports, the school board is voting on June 7 on whether to post in all schools displays that would include the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, the Magna Carta, Lady Justice, and the National Anthem.
For years, Giles County schools posted side-by-side copies of the Ten Commandments and 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.
In the letter emailed this morning, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg and Freedom From Religion Foundation Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott note that the Ten Commandments has sometimes been allowed in public buildings when it is part of a secular display. However, the courts have made it clear that when such displays have a religious purpose, they are unconstitutional. The courts have been especially sensitive to such displays in public schools, where government promotion of religion is most strictly prohibited.