Share This Page

10 Commandments likely to stand another year outside Valley High

| Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 12:21 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
The Ten Commandments monument, shown here on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, stands outside the gymnasium entrance at Valley High School in New Kensington. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of articles updating stories covered by the VND throughout 2013. The stories will appear daily, except Sunday, through the end of the year.

The marble monument of the Ten Commandments has been standing outside Valley High School in New Kensington for 50 years.

It will endure there for at least another year, as a lengthy court battle continues.

Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion filed a lawsuit against the New Kensington-Arnold School District in September 2012 to have the statue removed. The group argues that the statue violates the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishing a religion.

The district wants the monument to remain.

Both sides agree the conflict will take more legal wrangling. A court hearing that was to take place Dec. 20 was not held and is scheduled for March 21.

“We're still in that fact-finding stage, and there's really not anything to update on, unfortunately,” said Marcus B. Schneider, a Pittsburgh attorney who represents the Freedom From Religion group. “There are so many documents changing hands.”

Anthony G. Sanchez, a Pittsburgh attorney who represents the district for this case, agreed.

“This case has had extensive discovery, and we both believe we needed additional time,” Sanchez said.

Once the hearing is held, there will still be legal matters that must be settled for the case to be decided.

Both sides predict that the earliest that could take place would be late summer or fall.

The attorneys said that the case is unlikely to go to trial before a jury. Instead, the judge overseeing the case would decide the matter based on the law.

“If there are no material factual disputes, there's no job for the jury,” Schneider said. “So we can place the legal standpoints before the court. This is more a disagreement about how the law applies to the facts. ”

Judge Terrence F. McVerry is handling the New Kensington-Arnold case and a similar one filed by Freedom From Religion against the Connellsville School District. A similar Ten Commandments statue is situated at the junior high school there.

Sanchez said the cases have not been combined but are working on the same time frame.

Even if the judge makes a decision then, Sanchez said the court battle could go beyond next year.

“Whoever loses can, and probably will, appeal,” Sanchez said.

Both sides believe they will win.

“We believe there is no violation of the Constitution and that we will prevail,” Sanchez said.

Likewise, Schneider said he believes Freedom From Religion will win.

“We continue to believe that the plaintiffs will prevail in these cases based upon the interpretations of the Establishment Clause in other cases involving schools,” Schneider said.

The Establishment Clause is the part of the First Amendment that states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Neither attorney could state the percentage of times a religious symbol remains at or is removed from a public space after a legal challenge.

“I don't really know enough situations to comment how it's usually handled,” Schneider said.

Sanchez said while there are many religious symbols at public buildings, there are not that many court cases seeking their removal.

“For example, I was at the Pennsylvania Superior Court the other day in downtown Pittsburgh, and I looked up at the ceiling, and there was a picture of Moses being handed the Ten Commandments,” Sanchez said. “In my estimation, cases don't come up a lot.”

Maria Guzzo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.