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Atheist Group Forces Removal of Ten Commandments Plaque from Ohio Middle School

07-01-2019

A Ten Commandments plaque dating back to the 1920's has been removed from an Ohio middle school after complaints from an atheist organization.

The plaque had been on display for 92 years at Welty Middle School in New Philadelphia until a concerned parent reportedly complained about it.

The parent contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation which on April 12 sent a letter to the school district.  The letter stated that the plaque was a "fragrant violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

"The district's promotion of the Judeo-Christian bible and religion over nonreligion impermissibly turns any non-Christian or non-believing student into an outsider," the letter said. "Schoolchildren already feel significant pressure to conform to their peers. They must not be subjected to similar pressure from their schools, especially on religious questions."

The district's superintendent highlighted the importance of the plaque and its history at the school.

In  a statement to The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia Schools Superintendent David Brand said, "Since receiving the letter, the District has gathered more information, listened to interested community members, and reviewed its options," As background, the plaque was a gift from the Class of 1926 to the District in 1927. To the best of its knowledge, the District believes the plaque has been displayed in the District ever since. With over 90 years on display, the plaque is recognized as part of the tradition and history of New Philadelphia City Schools."

He added that fighting to the keep the plaque would be costly and a burden to local taxpayers.

"Despite offers from local law professionals to help the district, the 'costs' of defending are substantial," said Brand.  "In addition to funding multi-year litigation, the District will divert staff, time, and energy from the District's true purpose — student learning. Even more troubling, if the District's case is unsuccessful as all other school cases have been, FFRF can seek for the District to pay FFRF's legal fees, which have in at least one instance, exceeded $900,000.00. Clearly, challenging the issue legally would be an enormous risk and burden to the local taxpayers."

"Rather than engaging FFRF in an action where the community's resources are at stake, the District will consider filing an amicus brief in a forthcoming case on the matter," Brand said.

FFRF "works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church," their website describes.

They operate as a watchdog group that keeps their eyes out for any type of organization that they think is breaching the separation of church and state.

Most recently, FFRF tried to remove crosses from the San Jacinto County Courthouse in Texas, by demanding their removal. As previously reported by Faithwire, the County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to keep the crosses at the courthouse, throwing out FFRF's claims.

First Liberty Institute Informs Ohio School District Their Plaque is Protected Under the Law

In an email to CBN News, First Liberty Institute said it had mailed a letter to the New Philadelphia School District challenging its decision to remove the Ten Commandments plaque from the middle school.

The nonprofit law firm recently represented The American Legion in the recent Supreme Court case where the justices upheld the constitutionality of the Bladensburg (MD) WWI “Peace Cross.” 

In that decision, the Court concluded that rather than question the presence of “religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices” displayed in public, such longstanding and historic displays bear “a strong presumption of constitutionality.”  The Court also said, “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”

In the letter to the school district, First Liberty wrote: "the law protects such historic and longstanding displays of religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices.  Removing such historical monuments with religious associations communicates impermissible hostility to religion."

The law firm urged the district to restore its Ten Commandments plaque since the law clearly allows it. 

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