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Connellsville church willing to take school's 10 Commandments monument

| Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, 11:46 p.m.
Tribune Review
Jon Detwiler, president of the Connellsville Area School Board, listens Sunday afternoon, September 9, 2012, as the Rev. Nelson D. Confer, pastor of the Church of God in Connellsville, asks church trustees to stand if they are in favor of requesting the school board relocate the Ten Commandments monument next to Connellsville Junior High School to church property. All members were in favor of the proposal. The plan to relocate the monument was discussed after a national group that advocates church-state separation threatened to sue the school district. Kenneth Brooks | For The Tribune-Review

If members of the Connellsville Church of God have their way, not only will they accept a Ten Commandments monument from a public school, they will display it on the edge of their property and light it up at night for all to see.

The church's 59 trustees voted unanimously Sunday to write a formal letter requesting removal of the marble monument from Connellsville Area School District property when a lawsuit was threatened by a national group that advocates church-state separation.The school board will meet Monday night to vote on the fate of the religious monument, which has been covered by a sheet of plywood.

“With board approval, it will be donated to the church,” Jon Detwiler, president of the Connellsville Area School Board, said after the church's vote Sunday.“I have a few board members, and I don't blame them, they're catching heat on the other side — they want to fight to keep it there,” said Detwiler, who wore a Connellsville logo polo shirt to the meeting. “We're going to lose. It'll be removed from school property and it'll be displayed by these people.”

The monument, donated by the Connellsville Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1957, would be moved less than half a mile from in front of Connellsville Area Junior High School to the corner of the church's lot at Breakneck Avenue and Falcon Drive.“It is our intention to relocate that monument to the corner of our property down here where you enter the school (complex),” Dick Bitner, vice president of the church's trustees said, as members applauded in support.“We are a little bit surprised that this has taken so long to happen given society and the courts the way they are today, but it is something that we feel very strongly about,” he said. “We also feel that it is important to the community to see God's word.”The Rev. Nelson D. Confer of Connellsville Church of God said he is overwhelmed with phone calls from supporters. Some local organizations have committed to purchasing benches, flowers and shrubs to decorate the monument, he said. The church is also reviewing the possibility of installing lights to illuminate the monument at night, he said.

“I am so touched and so moved by this community,” Confer said.

If the school board votes to donate the monument, it would be moved immediately and held in storage until the church obtains the proper permits to install and display it, Confer said. In August, the Connellsville Area School District received two requests to remove the religious monument — one from a Pittsburgh law firm representing the parent of a student and another from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, based in Washington.Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel, said the group works to promote religious liberty and supports the right of churches to practice freely.He said he was pleased to hear the monument will most likely be removed.

“Whether it was the Ten Commandments or a Jewish Star or a Buddha or any other religious symbol you can think of, it can't be on school grounds,” Lipper said. “They very quickly realized they had no choice but to move it. It's ultimately the parents' job, not the school's job, to choose their children's religion.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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