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Ten Commandments monument in Connellsville moves to church property next to senior high

| Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, 8:39 p.m.
The Ten Commandments monument that was once in front of Connellsville Area Junior High School was moved on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, to its new location on the property of Connellsville Church of God, which is next to the driveway entrance of Connellsville Area Senior High School. A dedication ceremony is planned for Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 at the church.
Mark Hofmann | Trib Total Media
The Ten Commandments monument that was once in front of Connellsville Area Junior High School was moved on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, to its new location on the property of Connellsville Church of God, which is next to the driveway entrance of Connellsville Area Senior High School. A dedication ceremony is planned for Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 at the church.

The Ten Commandments monument, covered since 2012, was moved Thursday from the grounds of Connellsville Area Junior High to its new home — on church property, right next to the driveway to the entrance of Connellsville Area Senior High School.

“It was set today,” said Pastor Nelson Confer of Connellsville Church of God, referring to the Ten Commandments monument placed on church property just past the soccer practice field and near the entrance of the high school off Falcon Drive.

The Connellsville Area School Board voted last month to return the monument to the Connellsville Eagles, which placed the monument at what was then Connellsville High School in 1957.

The monument was boarded up in 2012 when a lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of a student in the district.

The district then entered a legal battle that ended in August when Senior U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled the monument to be unconstitutional while on the school grounds. The ruling, however, did not force the district to move the monument.

But the board, wanting to avoid costly lawsuits, voted to return the monument to the Connellsville Eagles.

Confer said the idea to move the monument onto the church's property was presented to the church by the school board when the controversy began in 2012, but because the issue was in litigation, no action was taken then.

However, in the past few weeks, a local businessman, who Confer said wanted to remain anonymous, got in touch with the Connellsville Eagles and the church and set it up to move the monument to the church property.

Confer said at one point during the ongoing controversy, it was said the monument could not be placed on an adjourning property of the school.

“Our lawyer said we can do whatever we want on our property,” Confer said, adding that the church owns the property up to the driveway that leads to the high school and just past the soccer field, which the church allows the school district to use at no cost.

Confer said in 2012 when it was first suggested the monument be moved to the church property, the church received nearly $5,000 from people from across the country and even a church in Canada, who wanted to make the move happen.

“We gave their money back,” Confer said.

Confer said local businesses donated materials to give the monument a platform at its new location. Bushes have been placed around it. In the works will be lights for nighttime illumination.

He said a dedication ceremony is being planned and will be announced when plans are complete.

“It looks more beautiful down here,” said Bonnie Confer, the pastor's wife.

Nelson Confer said the remarks he's received from the public have been overwhelmingly positive. He said the church has received a lot of phone calls about the move. He only received one negative comment — the monument would ruin the soccer field.

Before the monument was moved, Nelson Confer said he addressed the congregation for its opinion and approval.

“They voted 100 percent yes,” he said.

“I think it's rather ironic that they moved it from the junior high school where it was in a corner and surrounded by shrubs to the edge of the road at the high school where everybody can see it,” said Gary Colatch of Connellsville, who was involved in the Thou Shall Not Move organization.

Thou Shall Not Move was formed as a grassroots effort to keep the monument on school district property. The organization held rallies and was responsible for erecting 25 Ten Commandment monuments that were placed at various locations throughout the area. Most of the monuments were placed on the properties of churches.

“If the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) considers Connellsville a victory, then they're really scraping,” Colatch said. “They may have won a small victory in moving it (the monument), but the people of Connellsville won the war and showed them a thing or two.”

Although he considers the move of the monument to the more prevalent spot and the other monuments erected a victory 26 times over, he sill believes the school district board of directors acted cowardly in giving the monument back to the Eagles so fast.

“It was blatant,” Colatch said. “The board better hope there isn't a God because they turned their back on God.”

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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