Friday, August 28, 2015

Ten Commandments Monument At School Unconstitutional, But Claim For Injunction Is Moot

In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Connellsville Area School District, (WD PA, Aut. 28. 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court held that a granite Ten Commandments monument that has stood outside a Pennsylvania junior high school since 1957 violates the Establishment Clause even though the monument, donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, is nearly identical to the one upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Van Orden case.  However, the court said:
there are at least two factors that distinguish this case from Van Orden, such that it does not control the outcome. First, the monument in Van Orden was displayed “in a large park containing 17 monuments and 21 historical markers.”... Conversely, the monument in this case stands alone, prominently displayed outside one of the entrances to the school with a sidewalk just 14 feet away... There has been no effort on the part of the School District to impart “a broader moral and historical message” by displaying the monument alongside or nearby other secular monuments or displays.... Not only does the monument stand alone, but it stands alone “on the grounds of a public school, where,” as Justice Breyer explained, “given the impressionability of the young, government must exercise particular care in separating church and state.”... 
Nevertheless, the relief granted by the court was rather narrow.  Since the plaintiff no longer attends the Junior High School, her claims for injunctive and declaratory relief were denied as moot. Instead the court only granted nominal damages of $1, thus placing the school under no immediate direct order to remove the monument. Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports on the decision.