Thou shalt not parse the First: The Connellsville Ten Commandments decision
Whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if no one is around to hear it is a metaphysical conundrum. But a federal court ruling that says a Ten Commandments monument on school property in Fayette County violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, but doesn’t order the monument’s removal because the objecting family doesn’t frequent the school anymore, is a constitutional non sequitur.
It’s as if Senior U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry, sitting in Pittsburgh, thinks someone has to be present and openly offended for the clause’s prohibition to be applicable.
It was in 2012 that a mother and her seventh-grade daughter sued Connellsville Area School District with help from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They objected to the monument, donated in 1957 by the Connellsville Eagles, outside the junior-high auditorium entrance.
Judge McVerry’s ruling, which ordered the district to pay $1 in damages, does no one any favors while doing the Constitution a substantial disservice.
Having ruled the monument unconstitutional, McVerry should have, as a matter of law, ordered the monument’s removal. Case law provides ample basis for doing so. Instead, McVerry left the matter unnecessarily unsettled — with each side able to claim victory and district taxpayers exposed to further costly litigation if the monument remains.