Connellsville school district covers Ten Commandments monument
By Renatta Signorini
Published: Friday, September 7, 2012, 12:08 p.m.
Updated: Saturday, September 8, 2012
School bus driver Carol Burkholder thinks it would be a sin to lose the Ten Commandments monument that has stood near the entrance of Connellsville Area Junior High for more than 50 years.
A sheet of plywood now covers the stone since its removal was requested by a parent and a national group that advocates church-state separation.
“I think most Christians in the area are very upset,” Burkholder said on Friday. “I think people need to stand up for what God has given us.”
In August, the Connellsville Area School District got two requests to remove the monument — one from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the other from a parent through a Pittsburgh law firm, Superintendent Dan Lujetic said.
The district plans to comply — a move that is unpopular but necessary to avoid a costly lawsuit, he said.
“It's been here since 1957, and now we have to remove it,” Lujetic said. “If we wanted to fight this, there's no way we would win.”
The monument, donated by the Connellsville Fraternal Order of Eagles, may get a new home.
Pastor Nelson D. Confer of Connellsville Church of God said the church will decide on Sunday if it will accept a donation of the monument.
The church property is visible from the junior and senior high schools.
“This is going to be our way to fight back,” the pastor said. “I cannot see the congregation turning it down.”
District solicitor Chris Stern concluded that law prohibits such a monument on school property. It was first covered with plastic and duct tape, but someone tore off that covering. Since school began Tuesday, plywood has shielded the monument.
The law is clear that state-related agencies should not act “in a way that would indicate some alignment with religion or non-religion,” said attorney Marcus Schneider, whose firm, Steele Schneider Attorneys at Law, represents the complaining parent.
The parent was referred by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group in Wisconsin that raised the issue unsuccessfully with the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
“There haven't been any cases upheld which allowed a religious monument to stand on school grounds,” Schneider said.
Through the attorney, the parent declined to be identified. Schneider said it was unclear if the protest was based on legal or religious grounds.
A community member filed a formal complaint with the district on Thursday asking it to save the monument, Stern said.
“Courts ... make decisions all the time that are unpopular, but they're answering to the Constitution,” Stern said. “This is our attempt to comply with the law.”
That displeased two parents picking up their daughters at the school on Friday afternoon.
“What are we teaching our kids? What kind of message are we sending to our children?” asked Paula Grubach of South Connellsville.
Shelly Porterfield of Connellsville took a glimpse at the monument in the plywood shroud and walked away.
“That's freedom of speech,” she said. “It's bad enough that they've taken the prayer out (of school).”
Valley High School in New Kensington faced a similar challenge in March from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to remove its Ten Commandments monument. The foundation never found a community member to initiate a lawsuit. The monument still stands.
In the last several years, Americans United for Separation of Church and State got a cross removed from a post office in Broomall, near Philadelphia, and opposed a Ten Commandments monument in a Hanover public park. Hanover sold the land. The monument still stands.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. Staff writer Rossilynne Skena contributed to this report.
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Freedom of religion. Doesn't mean freedom from religion. Who ever is offended by this display needs to get a life.
Submitted by: Keith on Saturday, September 8, 2012
Political correctness hits Fayette-Nam, educators in the district should hang their heads in shame. In the words of Scat man Carouthers in the movie The Blues Brothers, You Boys Need a Little Churchin Up.
Submitted by: Jason on Saturday, September 8, 2012
So let's spend tax payer money to relocate a monument to appease a parent who doesn't have the courage to have their name released to the press.
Submitted by: timothy on Friday, September 7, 2012
i went to school there! that monument never effected me!!! if people would pay more attention to what their kids were doing instead of crying about stone monuments,the world would be a better place with less crime!!
Submitted by: Anthony on Friday, September 7, 2012
But Valley has yet to cave in to such demands. Note that it has been shown in previous cases that having the Ten Commandments displayed does not constitute imposing a national religion. That's what the Constitution protects us from. What's more, while the U.S. style of government is a modified version of a Greco-Roman architecture, the values upon which this country was founded are those of Judeo-Christian teachings. Therefore, that monument is as much historical as it may be religious.