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Pearisburg, VA – Federal district court judge Michael Urbanski today approved an agreement that resolves a lawsuit challenging the posting of the Ten Commandments on the wall at Narrows High School. The Giles County School Board late last week voted to approve the proposed settlement agreement.
“We and our clients are very pleased with the resolution of this case,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg, who represents the student and parent who are the plaintiffs in the case. “This agreement sends the message that Giles County does not promote any particular religious beliefs, and that students of any faith, or no faith at all, are equally welcome in the Giles County Public Schools.”
Under the proposed agreement, the school board would not post the Ten Commandments in any public school unless case law in the Supreme Court or the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals allows it to do so. The agreement also provides that the court order protecting the identities of the plaintiffs, known in court papers as Doe 1 and Doe 2, will remain in effect. If the agreement is approved, the court will retain jurisdiction over the case for eight years to enforce it.
The controversy began in late 2010, when the Freedom from Religion Foundation received complaints about the posting of the Ten Commandments with the Constitution in Giles County public schools, a practice that had been in place for years. Over the next six months a dispute ensued in which the Ten Commandments were removed, reposted, then removed again, and ultimately posted in a display with historical documents relating to American history, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
The ACLU of Virginia filed suit on September 13, 2011, on behalf of a student and a parent, Doe 1 and Doe 2, arguing that the display amounted to government endorsement of religion and, therefore, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In addition to Ms. Glenberg, the Does are represented by Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick of the ACLU of Virginia, Patrick Elliott of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Frank Feibelman, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Virginia.