In its most recent crusade against posting the Ten Commandments in schools, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing that their display is unconstitutional if people who actually believe in the biblical laws advocate it.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski will hold a summary judgment hearing next week on a case in Virginia, in which the School Board of Giles County is fighting to allow a private individual to donate a display of dozens of American law’s foundational documents, including the Ten Commandments.
And according to The Roanoke Times, one of the ACLU’s arguments against the display is a school board member’s admission that he voted to allow the donation based on his own Christian beliefs.
The case Doe v. School Board of Giles County began in 2010, when the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint over a long-standing display of the Ten Commandments hung at Narrows High School, in Narrows, Va.
After the school removed the display, however, there was significant local backlash. Based on legal counsel, the school then permitted a private citizen – using no public funds – to create a display for the school featuring a number of important historical documents, including the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Mayflower Compact, the Ten Commandments and even Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, from which American law derives the phrase “separation of church and state.”
Yet despite federal court rulings finding such inclusive displays within constitutional bounds, the ACLU filed suit based in part, according to the Times, on the community’s outcry over the original removal of the 10 Commandments and School Board Member Joseph Gollehon’s admission – when asked if he voted for the display because he was a Christian – “It had right much to do with it.”
But according to Liberty Counsel, which is representing the school board in the case, the actions the board took are entirely constitutional, whether the members happen to be Christian or not.
“The ACLU has done everything it could to run from the facts and the laws that control this case,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. “The Foundations of American Law and Government display has been upheld by multiple federal courts of appeal. It is clearly appropriate to include the Ten Commandments in a display on law, because there is no dispute that they helped shape American law and government.”
In fact, Liberty Counsel asserts, the ACLU isn’t even disputing the foundational nature of the Ten Commandments or their inclusion in the school’s curriculum, only their position in a place where students might see them.
“The Virginia Standards of Learning requires students to know about the foundational principles of civilizations, including the Hebrews, and the foundations of law and government,” Liberty Counsel explains. “Secular textbooks published by Prentice Hall and McGraw-Hill trace the roots of democracy and law and specifically refer to the Ten Commandments and many of the documents posted as part of the Foundations Display. One of the Doe plaintiffs, who is the parent of the other Doe plaintiff, a student at Narrows High School, admits that studying such documents is appropriate in a textbook and that the Ten Commandments was significant in the development of law and government. Nevertheless, the parent and the student complain that only the Ten Commandments document should be removed from the display of 20 documents. The ACLU does not challenge the curriculum, which integrates the Ten Commandments as part of various subjects of study, but only the inclusion of the Ten Commandments as part of the display.”
Liberty Counsel refers to a student and parent filing the lawsuit, their identities protected by the generic pseudonyms Doe 1 and Doe 2.
According to the Times, the ACLU has admitted the unnamed parent is actually a Christian who believes in the Ten Commandments, but out of respect for the child’s differing beliefs, is bothered by the display.
The Associated Press reports the unnamed student claims the posting of the Ten Commandments “makes me feel like an outsider because the school is promoting religious beliefs that I do not share.”
At least one local resident, however, is arguing no matter which way Judge Urbanski decides, the case has already had an impact on the community.
“This [controversy] has done more to perpetuate the gospel of Jesus Christ than we could have done in years, because you raised up in defiance against the word of God,” Pastor George Creger told an ACLU attorney, as reported by the Times. “My church has actually increased, and I want to thank you.”