ACLU Says Giles County School Board's Decision to Post Ten Commandments Violates Religious Liberty

January 21, 2011

Civil liberties group preparing for possible litigation if government officials refuse to reverse decision to post Ten Commandments in local schools.

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CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

Giles County, VA - The ACLU of Virginia today objected to a decision by the Giles County School Board to re-post the Ten Commandments in public schools, and says it will consider legal action.

"This action flies in the face of both strong legal precedents and our fundamental notions of what religious equality means in the United States," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

"When the government promotes one faith, whether it is through the Ten Commandments or other religious documents," added Willis, "it automatically diminishes all other faiths. Religious equality is an empty principle if something as powerful and influential as a school board is allowed to impose its religious views on the students who attend the schools under its jurisdiction."

For at least the last ten years, large framed versions of the Ten Commandments hung in all five Giles County public schools, next to a copy of the Constitution. After the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Wisconsin complained last month that the documents violated the First Amendment's mandate for separation of church and state, the copies of the Ten Commandments were removed and replaced with copies of the Declaration of Independence.

But yesterday, at a meeting attended by more than 200 county residents who objected to the removal of the Ten Commandments, the school board voted unanimously to put them on the school walls.

In doing so, the school board ignored not only clear U.S. Supreme Court precedents but also acted against the advice of its attorney and the school superintendent's earlier decision to remove the Ten Commandments.

"After government officials hear from organizations like the ACLU," said Willis "they typically consult with their own attorneys. When legal advisors on their own payroll support our position, that solves the problem then and there. What is unusual about this situation is that Giles County School Board members are ignoring advice from their own attorney."

Willis added: "There are some circumstances in which the Ten Commandments may be temporarily displayed in a public school, such as when they are part of a large exhibit about the development of laws and mores throughout history. But that is not the case here."

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