Federal magistrate judge will act as go-between.Roanoke, VA – Rather than handing down a decision in the ACLU case challenging a Giles County policy that directs public schools to display the Ten Commandments, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski today sent the case to mediation.
Using unexpected reasoning, Urbanski suggested that the plaintiffs in the case and Giles County officials might be able to agree on allowing the displays to continue with an abridged version of the Ten Commandments in which the four commandments that contain explicitly religious directives are omitted.
The controversy began in late 2010 when the Freedom From Religion Foundation received complaints about the posting of the Ten Commandments alongside the Constitution in Giles County public schools, a practice that had been in place for years.
Over the next six months a public dispute ensued in which school officials removed the Ten Commandments, reposted them, removed them again, and ultimately posted them as part of displays that also contain several documents relating to American history, including the Declaration of Independence, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
After the school board ordered the Ten Commandments and American history documents to be displayed, the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in September 2011, filed suit on behalf of an anonymous student and the student’s parent. In the complaint, the lawyers for the two religious freedom organizations argue that the purpose of Ten Commandments displays in Giles County schools, even in their new context alongside other documents, is still religious and therefore a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
A schedule for a mediation hearing before a federal magistrate judge in Roanoke will be decided on soon.
The plaintiffs, who are anonymous, are represented by ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg and Dunn Fellow Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick, 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 http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/20110913GilesCo10CsDoecomplaint.pdf
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022