By Joseph L. Conn
Good news from Giles County, Va.! It looks as though local school board members may have decided not to waste precious financial resources on a church-state lawsuit they were almost certain to lose.
On Tuesday, Ten Commandments posters in all local schools came down.
That may mean the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Virginia ACLU will not be taking this constitutional violation into court.
According to The Roanoke Times, school board members had been warned that they could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending the religious displays, and there was a very strong chance that they would lose. The Supreme Court has barred school promotion of religion, including a specific decision holding that Commandments displays are unconstitutional.
Board members weren’t happy about it, but they made the right decision.
“Our entire board would like to see them stay up, but we can’t take that chance of them filing a suit and us losing,” Board Chairman J. B. Buckland said.
The board’s action came despite pressure from local clergy and congregants who demanded that their elected leaders keep the Commandments up. And those same forces are still on prowl.
Unfortunately, that means we don’t know if this is the end of the story.
Buckland hinted to The Washington Post that the board might try putting up a new display that is less obviously unconstitutional.
“We can’t justify spending $300,000 at a time like this, when we need that money for instruction,” he said. “But based on the Liberty Counsel’s advice, we will consider putting something back up.”
Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver has been conferring with board members about the issue, and he’s always looking for ways to circumvent the clear constitutional mandate of church-state separation.
Staver, dean of the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University School of Law, is the wrong person to give guidance to Giles County officials. Just this week, he lost another round in a long-running Commandments dispute from Kentucky.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case from the Bluegrass State dealing with Commandments displays in the Pulaski and McCreary county courthouses. The justices’ refusal leaves in place lower court decisions barring governmental promotion of religion.
Staver’s plea asserted, “This Petition provides this Court with the opportunity to finally tear down the walls of the labyrinth of [church-state] jurisprudence.” In fact, he really wants to “finally tear down” the wall of separation between religion and government.
The high court rejected his offer. The Giles County School Board should reject his advice.
This is a really simple issue. As my colleague Rob Boston noted last week, public schools exist to teach children about secular subjects. Religious indoctrination is not part of that responsibility.
Online sites say Giles County has some 40 houses of worship. If parents want their children to learn about the Ten Commandments and other religious concepts, that’s the proper place to look.