Local partner sought for Ten Commandments suit
Given the school district's refusal to oblige, an atheist group wanting Valley High School's Ten Commandments monument removed needs local support if it hopes to accomplish its mission.
Appalled at hearing district officials intend to keep the display in place, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor said her group would sue but needs local residents to help take the case to court.
Describing the district's defiance as "ridiculous" and "unbelievable" and "preposterous," Gaylor said, "Cooler heads must prevail.
"We will pursue this, but we do need people in the district to become plaintiffs."
Patrick Elliott, a foundation lawyer, said a suit could go forward if brought by someone outside the district but would have more teeth if supported by residents.
The foundation sent the district a request last week that it remove the monument, arguing its presence on public property violates the separation of church and state called for in the Constitution.
Superintendent George Batterson said the district has received "thousands" of phone calls and emails from people supporting its decision to keep the display standing outside the gymnasium entrance.
Only a few people have contacted the district to express displeasure with its stance, he said.
The New Kensington Eagles aerie gave the monument to the district in 1957. Eagles aeries across the country donated similar monuments at the time to communities to promote Cecil B. Demille's biblical epic, The Ten Commandments," starring Charlton Heston.
Sell the land?
Some have offered to buy the small parcel where the monument sits, arguing it can remain there if the land is private property, Batterson said.
"We'll have to look into that option and determine if it's something that can be done," district Solicitor Tony Vigilante said. "But that's premature at this point until we hear from the Freedom From Religion Foundation as to how it plans to proceed."
New Kensington Eagles Secretary Marc Hoak said he has kicked around the idea of leasing the parcel from the district but needs to investigate the legalities: "It's a thought. I haven't discussed it with the district because, at this point, I don't really know how to handle it."
Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor, suggested the district might not need to go as far as transferring ownership of the property.
"This is kind of a passive display compared to a lot of others," he said. "I'm not sure I would go to the trouble of selling the land. I would try to defend it first."
Ledewitz said there are a few factors that might convince the courts to let the monument remain. Those include the fact it has stood for more than 50 years without a community uprising, has a secular origin in its connection to Hollywood and not much draws attention to it.
He noted the courts have refused to strike down every Ten Commandments display, citing such grounds as their history and influence.
"I don't think this is a slam dunk even though, maybe, it ought to be under government neutrality," Ledewitz said.Additional Information:
New Kensington resident Mike Hresko plans to hold a 'Save the Stone' rally on Wednesday.
Hresko, who intended to hold a rally last weekend but canceled, said the event will begin at 5 p.m. at the monument site.
Hresko has said he is upset with an atheist group's request to have the Ten Commandments monument removed and wants to organize support for having it remain.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Two Westmoreland men charged with drug possession
- 2 arrested after Jeannette raid turns up heroin, crack, gun
- Inmate charged with smuggling drugs into Westmoreland prison
- Police: Woman faked Mt. Pleasant robbery
- Hempfield officials to review site plan for Excela Health Orthoplex
- Greensburg torture slaying participant Marinucci makes second appeal of sentence as unconstitutional
- Rostraver man pleads guilty in 2012 deadly wreck on I-70
- Contractor on New Stanton I-70 project wants access route
- Ruffsdale family loses daughter, 9, to cancer but gives back in her name
- Tenaska agrees to provide pollution information on proposed South Huntingdon plant
- Ligonier man accused of beating, strangling woman