Ten Commandments Go Up in Giles County (Virginia) Schools January 21, 2011

Ten Commandments Go Up in Giles County (Virginia) Schools

When the Freedom From Religion Foundation heard that a display including the Ten Commandments was going up in Macy McClaugherty Elementary/Middle School in Giles County, Virginia, they sent the district Superintendent Terry E. Arbogast a letter explaining why this was illegal (PDF).

The Ten Commandments are in a frame along with the U.S. Constitution… The bottom of the posting says:

Exodus 20: 2-17
The Holy Bible
King James Version

And, you know, there’s all that Constitution and Establishment Clause stuff, too.

The Superintendent responded with a short message (PDF) that shocked me:

As information, this part of the display will be removed and replaced with another historical document prior to us returning from our Christmas break.

Wow… that makes complete sense. He did the right thing. Good for the Superintendent!

Too bad the school board thought otherwise.

They voted 5-0 yesterday to reverse his decision:

More than 200 county residents packed the school board meeting room and adjacent hallway Thursday afternoon, and a half-dozen parents and pastors told the board to honor God and continue to teach children that the United States is “one nation, under God” with the commandments.

“You have a moral obligation to what is right,” Elwood Lambert of Narrows said to the board. “Do not let our future children be deprived of this right — a God-given right.”

The crowd clapped and cheered, and many answered “Amen.”

Eric Gentry, chairman of the Giles County Board of Supervisors, said he and other local officials supported the community’s wishes “because it’s the right thing to do.”

The Rev. Dan Kelly of New Valley Fellowship in Narrows told the board that his church would pay for the reframing.

“I want a judge to tell you to take them down,” he said.

It might come to that.

Isn’t it telling that the supporters of the Ten Commandments display are all Christians? You shouldn’t have to be an atheist to see the problem with it. It’s sad that all these kids’ education is controlled by a group of school board members who care more about promoting their faith than doing what’s right.

Bring on the lawsuit. I’m sure the community members will be thrilled when the district loses money that should be spent on the students on a Ten Commandments display that has serves no purpose.

(Thanks to Tom for the link!)

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  • Chris

    What is wrong with people!! (rhetorical question)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    … and a half-dozen parents and pastors told the board to honor God and continue to teach children that the United States is “one nation, under God” with the commandments.

    “You have a moral obligation to what is right,” Elwood Lambert of Narrows said to the board. “Do not let our future children be deprived of this right — a God-given right.”

    That’s going to make it really easy for the FFRF when this goes to court.

  • Silent Service

    Gah!!! Even when it gets spelled out to them, some idiot sticks their nose in the middle of it.

  • Cortex

    And then the atheists will be blamed when the district has to make budget cuts.

    So the fundies win both ways – they stand up to the godless, and their kids stay dumb enough to keep believing.

  • Smoking Bishop

    “Isn’t it telling that the supporters of the Ten Commandments display are all Christians?”

    Sounds more like Jewish to me…

  • david

    why is it they always say “founded on christian beliefs” yet those people seemed to believe in armed conflict subjugation
    slavery oh wait ………… nevermind

  • SarahNaut

    Wow word spreads fast! This is happening in the next county over from where I live and grew up. What bothers me is that these have been posted in the schools for 10 years and it is just now being brought up.

    The problem is, well, most people in Giles County would be just fine if local churches took over the schools, seeing as there is a “Bible Bus” Program for the schools that the kids can visit, which the in 2003 had a 97% participation rate which pleased the school board. Many of the comments on the local news sites make me embarrassed to be from the area. I forget how many Bible Thumpers and Holy Rollers there are outside the college town bubble I live in.

    These people do not care about following the Constitution. Get God or get out, and maybe now, get chased out.

    There is not really a local Atheist group around either. The closest is the Freethinkers @ Virginia Tech, but the group is still trying to organize and get its footing. There is a meeting on Tuesday though and I am sure this will be a topic of discussion.

  • Katy

    I might be mistaken, but haven’t judges ruled in the past the it’s okay to include the 10 commandments as long as it’s part of a display that includes other historical documents? Clearly, the reaction of the community is over the top, but it might not be the clear cut case that it appears to be at first glance.

  • Danielle

    Ugh, this is why One, Nation Under God needs to be removed from the pledge and money. We’re not a Christian nation. That crap was added in the 1950s and barely anyone is aware of this, thinking it has always been since the inception of the USA.

    I bet if they framed Sharia law next to the US Constitution, everyone would be getting their panties in a bunch.

  • Evil Paul

    I’m still waiting for the Catholics and Mormons and all the other Christian denominations who don’t use the KJV to realize that this display excludes them too. Maybe when that happens (dragging all the internecine Christian bigotry to the surface) people will finally realize why mixing church & state is a bad idea for everyone.

    But no, sadly the only people standing up for these things are secularists and representatives of those “other” religions that come from brown-skinned parts of the world where you have to wear funny hats. Easily ignored by the good white Christian West. They probably won’t notice the problem until that fateful day when the wall of separation finally comes down and the powers-that-be turn to the population and say: “Okay, who’s church gets to run the show?”

    I don’t know if I’ll be laughing or crying.

  • Perhaps they should put up one of the Westboro Baptist signs since they are examples of recent historical documents.

  • Mr Ed

    Katy – Yes they can include it as part of a larger display but that opens them up to making it a limited public forum. I don’t think they could object if I posted the Eight I’d really Rather you Didn’ts. Unfortunately they see posting their religious dogma as doing gods work and any thing else as being repressed.

  • bla

    Did they indeed publish whole Exodus 2-17 verses?
    I’ll spare you rest, but please note the 4-6 verses:

    4: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
    5: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
    6: And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

    In my country (catholic) this was erased from the commandments. How is it there? I find it particularly funny that 90% of people worshipping catholic god here don’t now this lines. And I would be thrilled to learn that they forbade children to draw.

  • ACN

    The ten commandements are always a funny issue. Christians like to remember the ones from Exodus 20, where Moses goes up the mountain, but he never returns with any tablets, he just speaks the laws of god.

    But he later goes up the mountain a 2nd time, this time coming down with 10 laws engraved by the finger of god, which he smashes to bits on the ground.

    In fact, after the smashing of god’s tablets, he goes up a third time and gets a new set of tablets which god claims is identical to the ones he smashed (these must be awfully important if god needs to write this set of laws down and it isn’t enough for Moses to just speak them!). They are recorded in Exodus 34 and are the only ones that god actually calls the 10 commandments.

    1. Thou shalt worship no other god
    2. Thou shalt make no thee no molten gods
    3. The feast of unleavened bread thou shalt keep.
    4. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
    5. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks.
    6. Thrice in the year shall all of your menchildren appear before the lord god (where exactly they’re going is unclear)
    7. Thou shalt offer no blood sacrifice with leaven.
    8. Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left until the morning.
    9. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the lord thy god.
    10. Thou shalt not seeth a kid in his mother’s milk

    How weird. If I were a still a christian, I’d be embarrassed at having a deity who is this ridiculously petty.

  • And some will criticize the Atheists for complaining…

  • TH

    “It’s sad that all these kids’ education is controlled by a group of school board members who care more about promoting their faith than doing what’s right.”

    That’s the thing, though. They think promoting their faith *IS* doing what’s right. It just happens to coincide with what they’re determined to do anyway.

  • Vas
  • “You have a moral obligation to do what’s right break the law”

  • RPJ

    “You have a moral obligation to what is right,” Elwood Lambert of Narrows said to the board. “Do not let our future children be deprived of this right — a God-given right.”

    At least they’re honest that their “morality” demands flouting the highest law in the land when convenient and denying freedom to others. All the more reason not to have “christian morality” near the schools. (Though that’s not a record one would use in court, of course).

  • “You have a moral obligation to what is right,” Elwood Lambert of Narrows said to the board

    How can the decision of a school district to value paying for a fight to display an archaic list of Christian rules over paying for education possibly be considered a morally sound choice?

    I don’t understand morality when it’s presented in some Christian perspectives.

  • “You have a moral obligation to what is right,” Elwood Lambert of Narrows said to the board.

    Apparently Elwood interprets this to mean lie or remain ignorant of the truth.

  • Cthuhlu

    Between this and the school deciding to keep the graduation ceremony at the mega church i feel bad for the students who grow up thinking that the countries laws are based on the 10 commandments. Obviously this is going to cost the school dearly and the court should decide in the end to remove this state sponsored endorsement of Christianity from the school

  • Damn right they have a moral obligation to do what’s right, and that means removing the ten commandments from the display!

  • Fred

    Some people (Sarah Palin) say that our system of laws is based on the 10 commandments. Nothing could be further from the truth. The first 4 commandments are all about religion. You could say in front of a cop “Goddammit, I am late for my Sunday job making graven images of Baal.” You have broken all of the first 4 commandments and not broken a single law. Not committing adultery and honoring your father and mother fall in to category of good ideas, but not laws. If people didn’t covet their neighbor’s goods the free enterprise system would collapse. The other 3 commandments against murder, theft and perjury are part of our system of laws, but also a part of every other system of laws on the planet. How can our laws be based on the 10 commandments when 7 of the 10 are not laws and the other 3 are common to every other system of laws?

  • Erik

    All I can say is that this is absolutely infuriating.

  • can we get rid of those Golden Rule plaques too? I mean come on… “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”… sounds like the philosophy of a rapist.

  • The Rev. Dan Kelly of New Valley Fellowship in Narrows told the board that his church would pay for the reframing.

    Nice of him. Is he also going to pay for the inevitable lawsuit, that is just as inevitably going to be lost?

  • amber

    This country was founded on christianity. It doesn’t matter if you believe in god or not it’s still part of history. I say let them keep it up.You know freedom of speech and all…..

  • Luther

    Readn, Riting, n Rituals

  • Didn’t anybody tell these turd burglars that a legal defense is not free?

    A voice of reason might have offered:

    “Bring us $20,000 starter money for a legal defense and we’ll break any law you want. And for no additional fee we’ll post the five pillars of islam too.”

  • Thomas

    This is a great opportunity for a school project:
    The 10 commandments in the 21th century.

    You shall have no other gods before me.

    What other gods are in your parents house?
    – Oprah
    – NBA
    – NFL
    – Nintendo
    -The Allmighty Dollar

    Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

    Make a list of all the shops, gas stations, and sport venues open on Sunday. Picket them and ask the customers why they break the 4th commandment. (This requires parental supervision since teachers are not allowed to work on sunday.) A great opportunity to lear new swear words! You are not allowed to use a car since lighting a fire on Shabbes is verboten. A car engine creates several thousands fires per minute. Just imagine spending one day in hell for every fire. (Theologians still argue whether this only affects the driver or anyone in the car. Don’t use the bus either, to be on the save side.)

    You shall not commit adultery.

    This could be fun: Find out who in the school board is divorced. Write a letter to him/her/it citing the display in you school and tell him that you are sorry that he will end in hell.

    You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbor’s.

    This one is for the very special pupil who is better endowed than the rest: Do not covet your neighbor’s wife’s ass.
    For all the others: Even when she makes better cookies, stay away from the temptation.

    If you use the other version (as cited above):

    6. Thrice in the year shall all of your menchildren appear before the lord god (where exactly they’re going is unclear)

    You only need to go to church 3 (three) times a year: Easter, Pentecost and Xmas.

    10. Thou shalt not seeth a kid in his mother’s milk

    No more cheese burgers.

    There is even a project for the arts teacher:
    Find the equivalent text in the Quran. Teach arabic calligraphy and add the suras (suri?) to the display.

    Don’t forget to invited the local TV station.

  • Pureone

    ACN beat me to the other ten commandments. I will add though, that non-beleivers should then stop referring to them as “THE” ten commandments, but instead call them “one set” of commandments or something similar.

  • ACN

    I prefer something like the “unaccountably waffling commandments” to indicate the several sets god had to send to get it right, or the “underwhelming commandments”. Because seriously, if you’re the omni^3(4?) lord of the universe, and you pen a set of important instructions with your own finger, and the best you can do is some weird instructions about how to cook goats/cows and how blood offering should be given, I am thoroughly unimpressed.

  • Steve

    George Carlin explaining how most of the commandments are redundant anyways:


  • ButchKitties

    I wonder how the people who support this feel about social welfare programs. Because that’s what this is: public assistance for people who are too weak and lazy to be Christians on their own. Parents absolutely have the right to teach their children Christian values. They do not have the right entitlement to use public money to do it.

    I don’t want to snatch the Bible out of anyone’s hands. I just wish people would stop trying to buy their Bibles with my tax money.

  • One thing that’s always struck me as very strange when I enter into discussion with theists is that I’m almost invariably accused of being “rude” to people of religious faith, of trying to “stifle” religious expression and generally being a jerk.

    But this post is a perfect illustration of how completely BS these accusations are. When I tell religious people to STFU, it’s because their religious expression is imposing on other religious people – not just on me. I don’t want to keep schools secular because I hate religion (although I do, of course, hate it so very very much). I want to keep schools secular because of all the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and wrong-denomination-Christian kids might be attending in addition to atheists.

    When I fight against religious expression in the public sphere, it’s not to disrespect religion, it’s the exact opposite! I’m asking all of us to be secular as an expression of mutual respect. To respect the right of every parent to bring their children up with their own beliefs, and for children to have a safe place to believe what they wish to believe without being told that they’re going to Hell.

    This is what struck me about this school board’s decision – it’s so profoundly disrespectful to all religions other than the dominant one. So how on earth did we atheists become the “rude” ones?

    At the risk of turning this already-lengthy rant into a complete tl;dr, my local atheist organization participated in an interfaith panel discussion last summer. After having the opportunity to talk about their belief system in relation to the topic question (“how does your faith promote peace?”), the moderator then asked each panelist a question that was the generic question that gets asked about that faith – so the Muslim was asked something about the oppression of women, for example. The atheists got the question “what makes you so certain that you are right and all the other panelists are wrong?”

    Why was this asked of the atheist? Does the Sikh think that the Hindu is right? Does the Buddhist think that the Muslim is right? No, of course not! Every single one of the panelists believes that every single other panelist is wrong, but it’s only a problem when an atheist is involved.

    It’s completely backward. With the exception of some atheists, we’re for the most part the representatives of common humanity. We’re the secularists, the ones who want to just put this religious nonsense aside and get to work building a solid and happy society. We’re the ones who want to work together, not the ones who want to segregate ourselves and impose our moral doctrines onto others.

    What a profoundly insane twisting of reality to call us the “rude” ones!

  • Just me

    I thought this was Friendly Atheists yet when I read comments, I do not feel respected in any way. I do not feel the posts are intended to be friendly at all. And, I’m really confused why everyone feels thier religious position (atheism) should be taken over the voice of the people in that community. To not see your position to be just as dogmatic (even more so) than those of the school board and community is to be totally blind. There is no such thing as a neutral position. Every view has a fundemental set of faith positions. The question is, do your basic set of faith positions provide logical answers to the fundemental questions of life – how did I get here, why am I here, what is the purpose of life, and what happens when I die. I deeply repect the opinions expressed here but must call you to question your original faith assumptions and your intrinsic religious beliefs. No one here is intentionally rude. I would never say that. I would say they are very religious. Thank you for the oppotunity to post.

  • Living around here, I find it disturbing to let you know that as of last night this insanity is still going on and it was the lead story on the local news last night. WTF? Can’t all of these inbred knuckle-draggers find anything better to do with their time? Shouldn’t they be more concerned about the level of education their children are receiving instead of trying to put up religious BS in public schools? These people drive me nuts.

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