School District In Pennsylvania Fought For Almost Three Years Over Display Of Ten Commandments, Paid Attorneys $64,000

| by Nicholas Roberts
Ten Commandments Monument.Ten Commandments Monument.

Three years after the initiation of a court case regarding a 3,000-pound monument displaying the Ten Commandments on school property, the Connellsville Area School District in Pennsylvania gave up and returned the monument to the Connellsville Fraternal Order Of Eagles.

The monument had reportedly stood on the grounds of the Connellsville Junior High School since 1957.

In addition, bills obtained by TribLive through a public records request shows the school district paid Pittsburgh law firm Andrews & Price roughly $64,000 for 400 hours of work on the case completed between October 2012 and December 2014.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the 2012 suit on behalf of a seventh-grader and her mother, who originally requested that the monument be moved from school property.  Officials in the district planned to do so  to avoid a lawsuit.

But the TribLive reports that after this happened, outraged opponents of removing the monument banded together to form a group named "Thou Shall Not Move," which put pressure on the school to reverse its decision. It was at this point when FFRF filed the lawsuit.

The school district spent three years fighting the case, but eventually gave up after a federal judge declared the monument unconstitutional. It was not removed at the time as the plaintiffs reportedly no longer attended the school.

The Herald-Standard reports that all Connellsville Area school directors unanimously voted to return the monument to the Connellsville FOE in September 2015.

At the time, School Director Kevin Lape said that he favored keeping the monument on school grounds but that the district did not have the funds to fight the issue. There was also the chance that the district could have lost its ability to even choose how the monument might be removed if a future lawsuit were filed.

Some members of Thou Shall Not Move maintain the case needed to be fought and that the lawyer fees were worth it, even though the school district eventually lost.

"It doesn't matter what the cost was, it was a fight that needed to be fought,” said member David Show. “That's something that should not be a problem in our schools.”

Show believes the people of Connellsville wanted the monument to stay where it was.

Sources: TribLive, Herald-Standard / Photo credit: Sean Stipp/Trib Total Media