ACLU of Illinois Lauds Officials' Decision to Remove Religious Postings in Harrisburg Schools

December 7, 1999

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHICAGO -- Praising the members of the Harrisburg Board of Education for courage and reason, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today hailed the Board's decision to remove postings of the Ten Commandments in the district's school buildings.

The postings of the religious documents had been the subject of a local controversy over the past several weeks. Lawyers for the ACLU planned to travel to the federal courthouse in Benton on Thursday of this week to file a federal lawsuit forcing the removal of the Ten Commandments from the schools. The Board's decision on Monday means that litigation has been avoided.

"We are very pleased for the students, the parents and the citizens of Harrisburg," said Edwin C. Yohnka, Director of Communications for the ACLU in response to the Board's decision. "This action means that the people of Harrisburg can focus all their energies, resources and attention on the needs of their students, rather than worrying about a lengthy, expensive and disruptive court battle. In our view, this is the best result - education is always preferable to litigation."

The Board's vote on Monday brings to an end a controversy that began on October 26, 1999, when a majority of the Board voted to post the Ten Commandments in each of the district's four school buildings. Following the vote, ACLU offices received a flurry of calls from concerned citizens in Harrisburg.

On November 5, 1999, lawyers for the ACLU of Illinois sent a letter to the school district explaining that the posting of the Ten Commandments was a violation of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishing religion, and that the action specifically violated a 1980 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Despite receiving the views of the ACLU and other legal opinions, the Board narrowly voted on November 16, 1999, to affirm their October decision. Monday's vote reverses that action.

"We hope this decision signals an end to the divisiveness caused by the attempt to impose one set of religious values on an entire community," Yohnka said, adding that the ACLU had heard disturbing reports about the way the controversy was tearing the community apart.

Now that the matter is settled, he said, "the Board of Education and the entire community can begin to work together again in order to build and maintain the most effective educational system for their children. It is a wonderful moment for those students."

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