CONNELLSVILLE, Penn. — A Pennsylvania pastor is responding to a lawsuit filed by a prominent atheist activist group surrounding the presence of a Ten Commandments monument at a local junior high school by installing numerous other monuments throughout the community and surrounding area.
As previously reported, Thou Shall Not Move, led by Pastor Ewing Marietta of Liberty Baptist Church, was founded as an effort to help support the Connellsville School District after it was sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) last year over a Ten Commandments monument on school property. The Wisconsin-based atheist group had filed the lawsuit against the district on behalf of a woman and her daughter who claim that they are disturbed by the monument’s presence.
“[Plaintiffs] contend that a public school district has no right to instruct its captive audience of impressionable students on which god to have, how many gods to have, or whether to have any gods at all,” it wrote in its complaint.
The statue, which was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1957, includes the figure of an eagle along with an American flag, two stars of David and an inscription of the Ten Commandments. The organization gifted similar monuments to a number of school districts across the country in hopes that they would “provide troubled youth with a common code of conduct to govern their actions.”
Since the challenge was filed, members of the community have rallied around the monument, posting signs in their yard to display their support and hosting gatherings as a show of solidarity.
“My phone is ringing off the hook with people that want to fight this,” school board President Jon Detwiler told reporters in September when the fight began. “It’s not really the worst thing in the world to have our kids reading.”
To date, Pastor Marietta has dedicated three additional Ten Commandments monuments in the community, and has purchased a total of 14. However, he is now working with a waiting list of locations throughout the region where supporters likewise wish to post a monument for public viewing.
“We have requests from 52 different places that want Ten Commandments monuments placed on their property,” he told the Daily Courier. “We’re going down the list and starting with the places that requested the monuments first.”
So far, monuments have been placed at the Connellsville Eagles building, St. Paul AME Church in Uniontown and Juniata United Methodist Church in Dunbar Township. Three more dedication ceremonies are scheduled for September 8th, 15th and 29th. Marietta also plans a casual community celebration in October.
“Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, a Quaker who was in prison in England three times because of his religion, and came to this country for religious freedom,” he told reporters. “People should be able to hold onto their religious morals and values without the threat of being thrown into jail. We don’t want to force the Ten Commandments monuments on anyone, but we don’t want them taken away from the public eye.”
Marietta is also collecting petition signatures over the matter, and nearly 5,000 Ten Commandments yard signs have been sold to help pay for the monuments.