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50 gather to spare New-Kensington Arnold monument

| Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, 11:19 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Mike Hresko rallies a crowd at Memorial Park in New Kensington on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. They gathered for the 'Save Our Stone' rally in support of the Ten Commandments monument at Valley High School. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

About 50 people showed their support for keeping the Ten Commandments monument at Valley High School, attending a “Save our Stone” rally on Saturday in New Kensington.

One attendee was the last one person most would have expected to be there.

Marie Schaub, one of the New Kensington-Arnold School District parents who has filed a federal lawsuit to have the monument removed, stopped by near the end of the rally.

“I just wanted to hear what they are saying,” Schaub said. “I find it amazing that people gather in support of breaking the law.”

Mike Hresko, 59, of New Kensington organized the rally in Memorial Park to counter the lawsuit filed by Schaub and Freedom From Religion Foundation of Wisconsin. The plaintiffs believe the monument's presence at a public school violates the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishing a religion.

“We want to show the school district that the community wants that monument to stay there,” Hresko said just before the rally kicked off on a crisp, sun-filled morning in the park. “Those Ten Commandments are part of our history.”

Speaking later from the park's bandstand, Hresko fired up the crowd with comments like “We don't want it removed — this is part of our community. ... They'll lock up the churches and we'll be just like a communist country.”

Saturday's event was the second public gathering in support of keeping the monument at Valley since the Freedom From Religion Foundation first asked for its removal in March. About 50 people attended a prayer vigil in March.

At one point during Saturday's rally, the audience broke into a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”

For Barbara Madeja, 65, of Arnold, the monument has religious and historical meanings. She's dismayed it has become a big issue.

“I don't think something like this should have been raised,” she said. “It was there for 50 years and some kids don't know it's there. No one is forcing anyone to look at it.”

Madeja said she heard that the monument may be moved to property owned by a church.

“I can't see paying money for attorneys when we can move it,” she said.

A number of residents took the stage to decry the possible removal of the monument and encouraged people to stand up for their rights.

“Don't let intolerant people shut you up,” said Matt Wehrle of Apollo, a former New Kensington resident and a member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

State Rep. Eli Evankovich spoke briefly and criticized the foundation for trying to remove the granite block.

“This group came here searching for a problem,” the Murrysville Republican said. “We live here — is there a problem?”

The Rev. Mitch Nickols of Bibleway Christian Fellowship Church in New Kensington said there are petitions with at least 400 signatures, “making sure your voices are heard,” which will be submitted to the school district in the future.

“This is America and we do have religious rights,” Nickols said.

The monument was donated in 1957 by the New Kensington aerie of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The national organization donated many such monuments throughout the country in conjunction with the 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments.”

The foundation has also sued the Connellsville Area School District in Fayette County asking for the removal of its Ten Commandments monument from near Connellsville Junior High.

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