I’ve posted before about a Ten Commandments monument that had been outside Connellsville Junior High East in Pennsylvania since 1957:
You can read a longer history here, but the short version of the story is that a judge ruled that the monument’s placement outside a public school was unconstitutional. It was an endorsement of religion, plain and simple.
However, because the student whose family filed the lawsuit no longer attended the school — that happens when these cases drag on for years — it was all moot. Therefore, there was no obligation for the Connellsville Area School District to remove the monument.
So it was an incomplete victory. On paper, church/state separation groups got everything they wanted… but nothing really changed. It would take another student (and perhaps a quicker legal process) to force the monument to come down.
Then, last week, even though they didn’t have to, the administrators decided to take down the monument anyway. They said it was just “a matter of time” before another student with legal standing filed a similar lawsuit and won, and they didn’t want to go through all of that again.
But they could have kept it up until someone else complained. Why take it down so quickly, after all this time defending it?
Andrew Seidel, an attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, explains how the administration’s fear of a future lawsuit doesn’t tell the whole story:
If the school district had decided to keep the monument, it would have been in serious trouble. The court explicitly said the monument was unconstitutional, so the district would have knowingly violating a clearly established right under the Constitution.
if the school board had refused to remove the monument, when FFRF sued the school again — and we would have — the school district would have had to pay up and the individual officials themselves might also have been paying FFRF out of their personal checking accounts.
Suddenly, it’s not the taxpayers’ problem. It’s their problem. And minds change rather quickly when it’s your wallet on the line.