NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — A prominent group of professing atheists has appealed a court ruling finding that a Pennsylvania teenager did not and her mother did not have standing to challenge the presence of a Ten Commandments monument because the teen hadn’t had been near the display enough to claim that it harmed her.
As previously reported, in late July, U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled that the girl and her mother “failed to establish that they were forced to come into ‘direct, regular, and unwelcome contact’ with the Ten Commandments monument…”
The statue, which was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950’s and sits on the grounds of Valley High School in New Kensington, 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.”
In 2012, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit against the display on behalf of local resident Marie Schaub and her daughter, who complained that they were disturbed by the monument’s presence.
McVerry outlined in his ruling that Schaub had only seen the monument two or three times. Her daughter—whose name has not been released—also testified that she didn’t pay much attention to the display while on campus. The girl also no longer attends Valley High School.
Therefore, McVerry declared that Schaub and her daughter had no standing in the lawsuit and dismissed the case. He said that the need for a lawsuit “seems to have manifested itself only after FFRF became involved in this dispute…”
“Regardless of how she might feel now, if she did not feel that way when she actually encountered the monument, then she is no different from someone who has never come in contact with the monument,” he ruled.
FFRF has now appealed the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, contending that the student indeed had “direct contact” with the monument.
“Doe 1 passed directly by the monument on a frequent basis over the course of three years when Doe 1’s day care program traveled to VHS to use the swimming pool. Doe 1 also attended a karate event at the VHS gymnasium,” it wrote in its appeal brief.
“Schaub passed directly by the monument while attending Doe 1’s karate event, and on one or two other occasions, Schaub also viewed the monument from the VHS parking lot while dropping off her sister so that her sister could take of necessary business at the school,” the group continued. “The monument is also visible from the adjacent road.”
FFRF claims that the girl experienced harm because her mother enrolled her in a different school district so she wouldn’t have to pass by the Ten Commandments display.
“Marie Schaub and her child have endured direct injury due to this illegal endorsement of religion by their school district. Not only is the student compelled to attend another school, at inconvenience and disruption, to avoid the religious monument, but the family has been subjected to communitywide opprobrium,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “The district essentially has turned them into targets and outsiders in their own school district.”
A decision is expected early next year.