An Ohio middle school has removed a 1920s-era Ten Commandments plaque following complaints from an atheist organization.
The plaque at Welty Middle School in New Philadelphia, Ohio, was a gift from the Class of 1926 to the school district in 1972 and had been on display for 92 years until the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation got involved. The organization, in an April letter to the district, called the plaque a “fragrant violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
“The district’s promotion of the Judeo-Christian bible and religion over nonreligion impermissibly turns any non-Christian or non-believing student into an outsider,” the letter said. “Schoolchildren already feel significant pressure to conform to their peers. They must not be subjected to similar pressure from their schools, especially on religious questions.”
Brian J. DeSantis, an attorney representing the school district, said in a June 19 email the plaque had been removed. But that doesn’t mean the district agrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“With over 90 years on display, the plaque is recognized as part of the tradition and history of New Philadelphia City Schools,” New Philadelphia Schools Superintendent David Brand said in a statement, according to the Times Reporter newspaper.
While the plaque is a well-established and historic piece of New Philadelphia City Schools history, the laws of the United States are pretty clear regarding the display of the Ten Commandments in a school setting. To preserve the plaque, the District would need to overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1980. Additionally, the District would need to become the first public school to successfully defend a Ten Commandments display in a school setting.
“Despite offers from local law professionals to help the district, the ‘costs’ of defending are substantial,” Brand wrote.
The plaque could be donated to preserve its history, Brand said. And although the district won’t fight this battle in court, it may file a “friend-of-the-court” brief in a similar case elsewhere, he indicated.
“Rather than engaging FFRF in an action where the community’s resources are at stake, the District will consider filing an amicus brief in a forthcoming case on the matter,” Brand wrote.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com