September 13, 2011

ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation represent student, parent in First Amendment challenge

Roanoke, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today filed suit against the Giles County School Board for posting the Ten Commandments on the wall at Narrows High School in Narrows, Virginia.  The lawsuit contends that the display violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Ten Commandments is posted on a main hallway at the high school, near the trophy case and on the way to the cafeteria, where it can be seen by students every day.  It is surrounded by historical documents relating to American history, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
The lawsuit was filed today on behalf of a Narrows High School student, suing under the name Doe 1, and the student’s parent, suing under the name Doe 2.  The plaintiffs do not want to use their real name because they fear retaliation from community members who have displayed scorn and anger toward those who have complained about the Ten Commandments display.
The complaint explains that the Ten Commandments display makes Doe 1 feel like an outsider in his own school, because the school is endorsing religious beliefs to which he does not subscribe.  Doe 1’s parent, Doe 2, objects to the display because it usurps the parent’s right to control the religious education of Doe 1.
“The Ten Commandments were clearly placed in Giles County public schools to promote religion, and that violates the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “School board members cannot camouflage their religious purpose by hiding the Ten Commandments among other documents.”
For years, Giles County schools posted a framed copy of the Ten Commandments along with the U.S. Constitution, but after complaints from the Freedom From Religion Foundation last fall, the school superintendent ordered them taken down.  The school board, however, in a meeting attended by 200 residents urging restoration of the display, voted to overturn the superintendent’s decision.  Only after the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened litigation did the school board reverse itself and order the Ten Commandments taken down again.  Then, in June, the school board authorized the posting of the Ten Commandments with historical documents.  However, Narrows High School is the only school so far to post the display.
“Schools best respect religious freedom when they allow students to express their religious beliefs, but refrain from expressing religious opinions of their own,” said Willis.  “That is not what has happened here.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Rebecca K. Glenberg and Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick of the ACLU of Virginia, Patrick Elliott of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Frank Feibelman, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Virginia.  The complaint can be found online at

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022