Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 14, 2011

10 Commandments in Giles County schools: ACLU files lawsuit

PEARISBURG, Va. — The Giles County School Board is facing another legal battle over the posting of the Ten Commandments in area schools after a federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia filed the lawsuit in U.S. District County in Roanoke on behalf of an unnamed student at Narrows High School and the student’s parents. According to the lawsuit, the display of the Ten Commandments is unconstitutional because it promotes specific religious faith and has no secular basis.

According to Giles County Schools Superintendent Dr. Terry Arbogast III, the school board has retained the services of the Lynchburg, Va. based Liberty Counsel, a non-profit law firm and Christian ministry that is defending the school system.

Matt Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, said this is the first time a case involving the Ten Commandments being displayed among historical documents has gone to a federal court in Virginia.

“This is the first case of this nature I am aware of in Virginia,” Staver said. “We will represent the board and prepare a response to the ACLU’s lawsuit. Then we will be in court whenever the date is announced by the U.S. Federal Court in Roanoke. My obvious hope is that this case will be dismissed by the court. We don’t even know if this is a real family or a real person who is behind this case. We hope this case will be dismissed or that we will be successfully upheld.”

The Liberty Counsel previously successfully litigated several suits that permitted the Ten Commandments to be displayed among historical documents on the state level. However, Staver acknowledged that the Supreme Court has struck down every case requesting the Ten Commandments be displayed in schools, whether part of a historical documents display or not.

“This is a display of government documents and has been upheld by several federal courts,” Staver said. “A case like this has not been upheld by the Supreme Court, but this case or several others we are working on could be that case. We had three in Kentucky like this we litigated recently. One was of a display that was just the Ten Commandments but that was struck down. Two others were upheld and featured the Ten Commandments in a document display.”

Shahn Wilborn is the minister of the Riverview Baptist Church in Ripplemead, Va. and one of the supporters for displaying the Ten Commandments in county schools. Wilborn said he and other community members will continue to support the school board during the suit.

“We figured there would be a lawsuit,” Wilborn said. “We will continue on. As far as I am concerned, this has changed no one’s opinion. The Ten Commandments are still supported here. We will fight it. We understand a lot of people have stepped forward to defend the case at no cost to the school system.”

Wilborn said it is important for community members that the display remains.

“We have to protect our freedom from these type of suits,” Wilborn said. “What gets lost in the shuffle is that our country was formed on Judeo-Christian values. When you walk into the Supreme Court, you see Moses carrying the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are part of our history and the basis for the laws we have. Posting these documents is not coercing someone into religion but displaying our history. They cannot change our history.”

Following a six-month-long controversy, the school board voted 3-2 in June to approve displaying a set of documents including the Ten Commandments in area schools. The two board members who dissented cited the cost of legal battles as their main reason for voting against the display.

The vote came after a group of 50 Giles High School students walked out of classrooms in March, protesting the decision to remove the display, but all but 15 returned after a school resource officer spoke to them.

A four-foot tall display of the Ten Commandments was first hung on the walls of county schools following the Columbine school shooting in 1999. The display was taken down in December 2010 by school officials and replaced by a copy of the Declaration of Independence following complaints from citizens. In January, the display was replaced by the school board after complaints from parents and pastors but the display was again removed by the school board the following month.

— Contact Kate Coil at

kcoil@bdtonline.com

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