Month: May 2012

ACLU Puts Ten Commandments on Trial

Giles County, VA – On Monday, May 7, Judge Michael Urbanski of the  United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia will hold a summary judgment hearing on Doe v. School Board of Giles County. Liberty Counsel will represent the school board against the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents the Doe plaintiffs in the suit.

ACLU of Virginia sued the Giles County School Board after the Board adopted an open forum policy, which permits the display of historical documents by private individuals or groups. A privately-sponsored historical document display consisting of eleven documents, one of which is the Ten Commandments, in equally-sized frames was posted in Narrows High School. The Foundations of American Law and Government display also includes, among other documents, the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and Mayflower Compact. The purpose of the display is to teach the historical foundation of American law. Additional historical documents were later posted, consisting of the First Charter of Virginia, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, a depiction and quote of Patrick Henry, a depiction of Minutemen, a depiction of George Washington, Washington’s Farewell Address, a depiction of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson’s letter to Reverend Samuel Miller, Jefferson’s 1779 Thanksgiving Proclamation, the Northwest Ordinance, and a document explaining the significance of each.

The Virginia Standards of Learning requires students to know about the foundational principles of civilizations, including the Hebrews, and the foundations of law and government. Secular textbooks published by Prentice Hall and McGraw-Hill trace the roots of democracy and law and specifically refer to the Ten Commandments and many of the documents posted as part of the Foundations Display. One of the Doe plaintiffs, who is the parent of the other Doe plaintiff, a student at Narrows High School, admits that studying such documents is appropriate in a textbook and that the Ten Commandments was significant in the development of law and government. Nevertheless, the parent and the student complain that only the Ten Commandments document should be removed from the display of 20 documents. The ACLU does not challenge the curriculum, which integrates the Ten Commandments as part of various subjects of study, but only the inclusion of the Ten Commandments as part of the display.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said, “The ACLU has done everything it could to run from the facts and the law that control this case. The Foundations of American Law and Government display has been upheld by multiple federal courts of appeal. It is clearly appropriate to include the Ten Commandments in a display on law, because there is no dispute that they helped shape American law and government. This display includes 20 documents and pictures and reflects the curriculum, which is clearly constitutional. There is no dispute that the Ten Commandments influenced American law and government.”

Mat Staver will argue in federal court on Monday in defense of the Giles County School Board.

Florida School Bans Easter Egg Hunt Fliers

TAMPA, Fla. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a 4th-grade Florida student Tuesday after his school prohibited him from handing out Easter egg hunt fliers to fellow students during non-instructional time. School officials contend that students “are not allowed to pass out fliers related to religious events or activities” because of two school board policies that the lawsuit challenges as unconstitutional.

“All students should have the freedom to express a message consistent with their beliefs,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Matt Sharp. “To say that an Easter Egg hunt invitation offered from one student to another during non-instructional time is somehow not allowed in America is preposterous. ADF has litigated numerous cases similar to this one, and the law is clear: invitations like this are protected by the Constitution. We encourage the school board to change its policies accordingly.”

In March, the mother of a student at Roland H. Lewis Elementary in Temple Terrace together with other members of the student’s church organized several neighborhood Easter egg hunts for children and their parents in the community. At each Easter egg hunt, children would participate in an egg hunt, play games, have snacks and candy, and hear the biblical story of Easter.

The student and his mother developed simple invitations that he could hand out to other students at school during non-instructional time for the Easter egg hunt that his mother helped organize in his neighborhood, but the school’s principal denied him permission to distribute them even though the school routinely allows other types of invitations, such as for birthday parties.

The ADF lawsuit challenges two Hillsborough County School Board policies behind the Easter egg hunt invitation ban: one that states that fliers distributed by students for religious events “may not contain a proselytizing message (i.e., promote the benefits of the specific religion)” and another policy that prohibits materials that “seek to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect, or point of view over any other religious denomination, sect, or point of view.”

“The two board policies are unconstitutional because they ban non-disruptive student-to-student speech based solely on its religious content,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas. Marginalizing students of faith removes an important influence for good from the school community, and removing their voice sends a message to all students that religion is something to be ashamed of.”

David Gibbs, one of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the case, Gilio v. The School Board of Hillsborough County, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division.

  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-ko)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.