Monday, December 15, 2014

Ten Commandments plaque being stored in office

Michelle Rotuno-Johnson, mrotunojoh@marionstar.com5:03 p.m. EST December 15, 2014

(Photo: Bill Sinden/The Marion Star)

MARION – A donated plaque of the Ten Commandments is being stored in the Marion City Schools superintendent’s office until an agreement can be reached on where to move it.

The plaque had been in the Marion Harding High School building since it opened and was taken down in August. Students, community members and the administration will discuss where to move it on Jan. 6.

Harding freshman Anthony Miller, who had been protesting the decision, said he plans “on doing work this week” after not participating in class for several days.

Kurt Moore, communications coordinator for MCS, said a parent inquired about the plaque over the summer. He said Harding Principal Kirk Koennecke made the decision to take it down in August.

The plaque is labeled as a donation from the class of 1956, not 1953 as previously reported.

Reporters for the Harding Herald first reported this story in the Dec. 5 issue and began circulating a petition to get the Commandments hung back up.

In an interview last week, Herald staffers Shanna Morris, Cheyenne Abrams and Sydney Cook said they want the plaque back up at school, not in another location.

“Taking down the Ten Commandments has caused more problems than leaving them up,” said Abrams, the Herald editor.

The Marion City School Board meets tonight at 7 p.m. There is no mention of this issue on the agenda, but there is time for the public to bring forth concerns before the meeting.

Historical context: religious displays and the law

Government action regarding religion is guided by the so-called “Lemon test” established after the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman Supreme Court decision. The test is threefold:

1. The statute must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religious affairs.

2. The statute must not advance or inhibit religious practice

3. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose.

The court has cited the Lemon test (also referred to as the establishment clause) in several cases.

The Ten Commandments were a point of contention in a 2004 court case, Van Orden v. Perry.

Petitioner Thomas Van Orden argued a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol building represented an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion under the establishment clause.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the monument could stay up, saying that “simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the establishment clause.”

The monument was donated “to the people and youth of Texas by the Fraternal Order of Eagles of Texas, 1961.”

That same day, the American Civil Liberties Union won a battle against three Kentucky counties that displayed framed copies of the Ten Commandments and other religious documents in courthouses and public schools.

In McCreary County v. ACLU, the court decided 5-4 that the counties violated the Lemon test.

In Ohio’s Jackson City School District last year, a court ordered the district to pay $95,000 in damages and permanently remove a portrait of Jesus from its property to settle a lawsuit file by ACLU of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Also in 2013, the East Muskingum School Board voted to remove a painting of Jesus from John Glenn High School.

mrotunojoh@gannett.comTwitter: @RJReports


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