Group argues school display of Ten Commandments is constitutional

By Michelle Bauman

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Matthew Staver

A nonprofit legal group said that a Virginia school district’s display of the Ten Commandments does not violate the U.S. Constitution because its intention is to educate rather than promote religion.

“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,” said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel.

Staver said that the Ten Commandments are included among other historical documents and noted that the same display has previously been upheld multiple times in two different federal courts of appeal.

In June, the Giles County School Board in Virginia approved plans to post the “Foundations of American Law and Government” display at Narrows High School.

The display, which was funded by a private donor, features framed documents including the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the school board arguing that including the Ten Commandments constituted a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. 

On Nov. 8, Liberty Counsel filed a memo to have the lawsuit dismissed. The memo argued that the display of a religious document does not endorse religion. 

“The Board merely included one religious document in a display containing numerous historical documents that influenced the development of the laws in this nation and in Virginia,” the counsel said.

The group noted that all 11 frames were the same size and that the Ten Commandments was only one of the documents in the display.

They added that the display does not “mandate the teaching of anything in the District’s classrooms, but merely expresses an intention to pay tribute to influential, historical documents.”

The memo also observed that one of the 11 frames features a statement of the display’s purpose. 

The display statement acknowledged “that many documents and symbols, taken as a whole, have special historical significance to our community, our county, and our country’s history” and expressed the hope that documents would “positively contribute to the educational foundations and moral character of students in our schools.”

Liberty Counsel asked for the lawsuit against the school board to be dismissed, arguing that the display  has neither the purpose nor effect of promoting religion.

“An acknowledgment of the influence of the Ten Commandments on the development of America’s laws is much different than an endorsement of a particular religion,” they underscored.

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