Ten Commandments to be removed from Valley High School in New Kensington
The Ten Commandments monument will be removed from Valley Junior-Senior High School, after district officials reached a settlement in a lawsuit claiming the district violated the constitutionally required separation of church and state.
“In order to take the high road, as they say, we compromised and agreed to remove the monument,” said New Kensington-Arnold School District Superintendent John Pallone.
Under an agreement between the district and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation announced Tuesday, the district agreed to remove the stone monument containing the Commandments within 30 days from Feb. 15.
The agreement ends a federal lawsuit filed in September 2012 by Marie Schaub, who claimed the monument was a strictly religious symbol and was offensive to herself and her daughter, who was a Valley High School student at the time.
Schaub describes herself as an atheist.
In July 2015, a federal judge dismissed Schaub's suit, ruling that, because Schaub had withdrawn her daughter from Valley High School, she did not have standing to file such a suit.
But a month later, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Schaub's lawsuit, ruling that withdrawing her daughter from school to avoid having to see the monument daily was proof of “injury” from the presence of the religious symbol.
Under the agreement to remove the monument, the school district's insurance company will pay $163,500 in legal fees, including more than $40,000 to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“We're very pleased,” said Patrick Elliott, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “It means that the Constitution is being followed by the school district.”
Pallone said officials aren't sure where the monument will end up, but said it won't be on district property. He said the district has several interested private property owners.
“It will likely be more prominent,” he said of the monument once it's moved.
Schaub said she is relieved and excited to finally bring the case to a close.
“It's unfortunate that many people in my community don't understand or appreciate the separation of church and state, but I hope this settlement serves as an important lesson,” she said. “I'd like to thank the FFRF for all of their help and everyone who has supported our cause.”
Pallone questioned the motive of the lawsuit and said no one really won in the end.
“It's an unfortunate circumstance that these opportunists forced the district into a situation where we had to make this decision,” he said. “These plaintiffs and their lawyers basically made a mockery of the judicial system.”
Elliott said he doesn't believe that is the case and said the legal fees the district is paying don't cover the full amount spent.
“(That's) a narrative that sounds good to the superintendent, but I don't think it's factual,” Elliott said.
Pallone said the monument isn't prominently displayed at the school, and many people don't even notice it. Pallone said he attended high school there and never stopped to read it.
“I walked past that thing literally thousands of times and never knew it was there,” Pallone said.
A local Fraternal Order of the Eagles branch gifted the monument to the district about 50 years ago, as part of a nationwide movement in response to the 1956 release of the movie “The Ten Commandments.”
Pallone said the district believed they had a winnable case, but decided to settle now instead of dragging the lawsuit on any longer.
“We're in a position where we just can't continue to fight this distraction,” he said.
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.