Support urged for Ten Commandments rally
NEW KENSINGTON — A rally to support the display of the Ten Commandments at Valley High School is planned for Oct. 13 — seven months after Mike Hresko first planned one.
Hresko, 59, of New Kensington said he conceived the idea of rallying the community in March when the Freedom From Religion Foundation first contacted New Kensington-Arnold School District and requested the removal of the nearly 6-foot monolith.
The foundation argues the monument's presence at a public school violates the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishing a religion.
The foundation and two district parents and their children have sued the district to demand the monument's removal, and Hresko decided it was time for the rally to become reality.
“I can't take any more,” Hresko said. “I've had enough. This group from Wisconsin doesn't understand the importance of this monument.”
Hresko said the “Save Our Stone” rally is planned for 11 a.m. Oct. 13 at the Memorial Park stage in New Kensington. He said there likely will be a few speakers, but he doesn't have a formal schedule of events planned.
“I don't know how many people we're going to get,” Hresko said. “Just show up and show your support.”
Aside from a prayer vigil in late March attended by about 50 people, New Kensington-Arnold's monument hasn't had the same level of community demonstrations that a similar monument at Connellsville Junior High School has received.
The foundation this week also sued Connellsville Area School District for the removal of its monument, which, like the New Kensington Decalogue, was donated by a local Eagles organization in 1957.
About 100 people rallied at the Connellsville Eagles on Wednesday to support the display of the Ten Commandments.
A similar number of people prayed and protested beside the covered monument on Sept. 12 while an even larger group of supporters attended the Connellsville school board meeting, during which the board delayed action on the foundation's demand.
By contrast, the last New Kensington-Arnold school board meeting on Sept. 27 — the first since the lawsuit was filed — was sparsely attended and no one spoke about the monument or the lawsuit.
The district's solicitor, Tony Vigilante, said the board has not yet decided on a course of action; the district has 60 days from Sept. 14 to file a formal response.
A grass-roots effort also is afoot in Connellsville to sell T-shirts and printed copies of the Ten Commandments to raise money for the monument's defense and costs to move the stone to a nearby church, if necessary.
There have been no reports of similar efforts locally.
More than 1,200 people, including several New Kensington-Arnold School Board members and district staff members, have signed on as supporters of New Kensington Controller John Zavadak's Facebook page, “Keep the Ten Commandments at Valley High School.”
Although group members have offered suggestions for fighting the foundation, there has been no mention of any organized actions.
“I didn't see anyone else stepping up,” said Hresko. “This community has been kicked in the stomach too many times, and I'm tired of it.”
Although he's a Highlands graduate, Hresko said he's lived in New Kensington for 20 years, and both of his daughters graduated from Valley High School within the past three years.
He said they had no issue with the stone while in school; in fact, he said they didn't really notice it.
“It's a part of our community,” Hresko said. “It's America. We were founded on Christian principles. It's a symbol of our freedom and our rights.”
Marie Schaub, one of the New Kensington-Arnold parents who joined the foundation as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, has indicated she didn't expect a fight against what she believes is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.
“It amazes me to see people willing to come together in order to support something that's clearly in violation of the law,” said Schaub. “I would encourage our school board and community to adhere to the Constitution, which will save our district from a very expensive court case.”
“Relocating this religious monument will not prevent anyone from practicing their faith, but it will send a message that the school district includes people of all religions — in addition to those who choose none,” Schaub added.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.