Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 1, 2012

Ten Commandments: Giles County School Board votes to change display

NARROWS, Va. — The Giles County School Board voted unanimously Thursday to replace a plaque depicting the Ten Commandments on the walls of a county high school with a page from a school textbook illustrating the Ten Commandments.

Steve Crampton, vice president of legal affairs of the Liberty Counsel, said the board voted 5-0 Thursday to replace the plaque of the Ten Commandments with a plaque showing a page from one of the high school’s text books.

The Giles County School board is presently in mediation over whether or not county schools can display the Ten Commandments on school walls. The suit was brought in September 2011 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on behalf of an anonymous student and parent at Narrows High School. The Giles County School Board is being represented by the Lynchburg, Va.,-based Liberty Counsel in the suit.

According to Crampton, a citizen who had originally proposed the 11-document display presently hanging on school walls suggested the plaque with the Ten Commandments could be replaced with a plaque showing a page of an American history textbook used at the school. The history textbook page also contains references to the Ten Commandments.

“The American history text book contains a graphic display of the roots of democracy,” Crampton said. “It includes a symbolic representation of the Ten Commandments but also includes references to English Bill of Rights, Magna Charta, Greek and Roman influences and how they shaped American law. The board voted 5-0 to allow that provision. This is from a text book currently in use at the high school.”

Before the school board voted on the change, the Ten Commandments were hung in the school as part of an 11-document display including the Magna Charta, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, Mayflower Compact, and Declaration of Independence. Crampton said he did not know how the change in the display would impact the ongoing legal battle against the school board for displaying the biblical texts.

“That is a question to be ultimately answered by how things play out,” Crampton said. “It changes the playing field, but I’m not sure how it will impact the legal proceedings. The case remains in mediation right now.”

Changing the display was not part of the ongoing mediation between the two sides.

Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia, said the ACLU and their clients were unaware the school board vote had taken place until they were contacted about it by the media.

“We are going to have to take a closer look at what exactly the school board did and consult with our clients before we are going to determine what our next steps are,” she said. “I have not heard of this being done before. We will need to assess the legal impact of this vote. The case is still in mediation. We did not know this was happening until after the vote took place today.”

U.S. District Court Judge Michael F. Urbanski with the U.S. District Court in Roanoke ordered the two sides into mediation in May, suggesting a compromise be reached by removing the first four of the Ten Commandments from the display, thereby removing religious references from the text. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the issue will be turned back over to the courts.

In November, Urbanski threw out two motions to dismiss the suit from the Liberty Counsel and in December, the two sides agreed to keep the anonymity of the parent and student bringing the suit.

The Ten Commandments were first hung at Narrows High School as a four-foot tall display following the Columbine school shooting in 1999. School officials took down the display in December 2010 after officials received complaints and was replaced by a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

In January 2011, the Ten Commandments display was hung back on school walls after more complaints from parents and local clergy. School officials again removed the display in February 2011 with no reason cited. The following month, 50 students at Giles County High School walked out of the classrooms to protest the removal of the display, but most returned to class.

The school board voted 3-2 in June 2011 to hang an 11-document display that contained the Ten Commandments on the walls of the school. The two dissenting members of the board cited the cost of legal battles to the school system as the main reasons for their votes.  ꆱ

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