Rally planned at Ten Commandments monument in Connellsville
Liberty Baptist Church Pastor Ewing Marietta and a handful of other area pastors are planning a prayer rally 5 p.m. Monday at the Ten Commandments monument located on the grounds of Connellsville Junior High School, the former Connellsville Junior High East.
That's just three hours before the Connellsville Area School Board will meet for its monthly work session at the Connellsville Career and Technology Center and where the board could possibly discuss a new home for the monument.
The monument had sat covered — first in cloth and then in plywood — on school grounds since its removal was requested by a parent and a national group that advocates church-state separation.
However, over the weekend, trespassers removed the covering several times, tossing the wood over a hillside and into the weeds and brush that surround the parking area.
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 on Friday. The parent was referred by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group in Wisconsin. The parent declined to be identified.
The district plans to comply — a move that is unpopular but necessary to avoid a costly lawsuit, Lujetic said. District solicitor Chris Stern concluded that law prohibits such a monument on school property.
A community member filed a formal complaint with the district last week asking that the monument be saved, Stern said.
On Sunday, parish members of the Connellsville Church of God, which is located next to the Connellsville Area Senior High School, agreed to welcome the monument and put it on their church grounds.
The Rev. Nelson Confer, pastor, said the church will await the decision of the school board. If approved, Confer said the monument would be moved to the church grounds, which are approximately one-half mile west from its present location at the junior high.
“Our property runs right down to the (high) school property,” Confer said. “We have already received requests from contractors and other groups who want to help move the Ten Commandments and then relocate it.”
Confer said the church has plans to bring more attention to the monument, which was placed at the junior high in 1957, a gift from the Connellsville Fraternal Order of Eagles.
“There may be some lights on it and some benches around it,” Confer said. “It will then be even more noticeable, which will be nice.”
Some community members are questioning the district's decision to move the monument, however. Posts from social media sites are asking the board to reconsider and fight to keep the monument where it is.
Marietta agrees. He has been researching various cases, including one in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
“I think Connellsville has a case to keep it,” he said.
Marietta said the district has not maintained the monument in any way since it received the gift more than 50 years ago. He said the district is not promoting any religion with the existence of the monument.
Marietta recognizes the importance of the separation of church and state, but also believes sometimes it may be carried too far.
“The first mega church was in the U.S. Capital. They used to hold church services there. It wasn't just one religion. There were different denominations who held services there,” Marietta sad. “Our country was founded on the freedom of religion.”
Marietta is hoping all area pastors will encourage their congregations to attend the prayer rally.
The Rev. Robert Lubic, pastor / administrator of the The Roman Catholic Partner Parishes of
Immaculate Conception, St. Rita and St. John the Evangelist, said there is a legitimate need and place for the separation of church and state, which is a foundational value of this nation.
But, he added that the separation of church has nothing to do with banishing God.
Yes, the public schools are not permitted to teach religion but to say there should be no mention of God is ridiculous, Lubic told his congregation during weekend Masses.
Lubic said we must remember not to attack the good sense of our founding fathers who did see the value of the separation of church and state.
“But by the same token, we must avoid the idiocy of those who say that means God has no place at all in the public sphere,” he said.
He questioned what could be next. “If offended by the Ten Commandants, what's next? Do we block off our churches so that the faithful won't be offended while driving down the street and seeing them.”
Lubic said the Ten Commandants are historical. “It's part of the foundation of western society. It can be understood even without any recourse to religion. To say they are harmful or offensive is just ridiculous.”
The Rev. Robert Bixel, assistant pastor at Pennsville Baptist Church in Bullskin Township, thinks it's a shame that one individual can make a fuss and get the monument removed.
“I don't like it and I don't think it's right, but I've heard about this happening all over the country, so I'm not really surprised that this kind of thing has made it here,” he said.
Bixel said members of a Sunday School class at the church were irate. “They said they were tired of being pushed around and said we should get together and fight this thing.”
Bixel said it seems Christian beliefs are more targeted than other beliefs.
“I think we don't say much when we're offended by something, but it seems that those who believe differently than us are more apt to take you to the mat,” Bixel concluded.
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.
Rumors on Sunday circulated the area that American flags were being removed from Bullskin Township Elementary School. Lujetic, school principal Charles Michaels and Connellsville Area School Board director Dr. P.J. Carte all confirmed this to be untrue.
Roxanne Abramowitz is an editor with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3530. Marilyn Forbes and Rachel Basinger are freelance writers.