NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — A federal judge in Pennsylvania has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the presence of a Ten Commandments monument at a local high school, declaring that the complainants have not suffered injury from the display.
“Plaintiffs … have failed to establish that they were forced to come into ‘direct, regular, and unwelcome contact’ with the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of Valley High School,” wrote U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry wrote on Monday.
The statue, which was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950’s, 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 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.
On Monday, 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 no longer attends Valley High School.
Therefore, McVerry declared that Schaub and her daughter had no standing in the lawsuit and dismissed the case.
“Because plaintiffs lack standing, the court’s inquiry is concluded. The court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to address the merits of plaintiffs’ claims, and this action must be dismissed,” he wrote.
McVerry 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.
Atheist and church-state separation groups have expressed disappointment in the outcome, asserting that the judge should have focused more on constitutionality rather than the legal standing of the complainants in the case.
“The reality is this Decalogue is unconstitutional because it gives the impression that government is endorsing belief over non-belief. Whether or not anyone is offended by the specific display is secondary,” remarked the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU).
It acknowledged, however, that even if the constitutionality of the monument had been considered, “there is no guarantee that FFRF would have won its case thanks to a bad U.S. Supreme Court decision.”
FFRF states that it is considering an appeal.
“We are disappointed with the mistaken ruling and will discuss an appeal with our attorneys,” Co-President Dan Barker said in a statement.
However, New Kensington-Arnold School District Superintendent John Pallone told reporters that he is happy that the case had been dismissed.
“We’re pleased with the decision by the court,” he stated. “We’re glad to see this issue is hopefully behind us, and we can move on with our mission of educating children.”