Supporters tell Connellsville board to keep disputed Ten Commandments monument
By Renatta Signorini
Published: Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Connellsville Area School District has 60 days from Sept. 26 to respond to a lawsuit seeking to remove a Ten Commandments monument on school property, Solicitor Chris Stern said during a board meeting Monday.
“That doesn't mean we have to take 60 days, but we have up to 60 days,” Stern said.
About 30 people attended the meeting, the board's first since the suit was filed on Sept. 26. The crowd applauded to show continued support for the district to keep the monument in place. It was donated in 1957 by the Connellsville Eagles.
Teri Hirko of Connellsville asked for an update while wearing a T-shirt printed with the Ten Commandments and carrying a homemade sign. She thanked the board for allowing supporters to speak during September board meetings.
“We still want you to fight with everything you got,” she said.
Supporters have been meeting weekly at the Connellsville Eagles. The group decided to not flood the meeting, but send about 20 people, she said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and an anonymous parent and student filed the suit claiming constitutional violations arising from the religious marker at Connellsville Junior High School.
The district had originally planned to comply with two August requests for the monolith's removal — one from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and an unidentified parent through Steele Schneider Attorneys At Law, the firm that filed the suit last month.
After public outcry, the board voted Sept. 12 to delay a decision concerning the monument, pending further legal action. A church next to the district's high school has offered to take the monument and place it near athletic fields the district uses.
The suit seeks to block that placement as well, stating that relocating the monument to church property would further infringe upon the parent and student's rights.
The suit cites a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that it is unconsitutional to display copies of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky public schools, even if the plaques were purchased through private funding.
Supporters of the monument have been selling T-shirts and yard signs bearing the Ten Commandments. Donation funds have been set up to assist in legal fees that the district could incur.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and two other parents are suing the New Kensington-Arnold School District over a similar Eagles-donated Ten Commandments monolith in front of Valley High School. In that suit, filed Sept. 17, one parent is named and a second parent and two children are anonymous. The board has not publicly discussed the matter.
A “Save Our Stone” rally is planned at Valley High School on Saturday.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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