Update: Va. School Reverses Ban on Students’ Ten Commandments

A recent decision by Giles County, Va., school administrators to remove framed copies of the Ten Commandments from its hallways prompted a number of students to tape up copies of the religious laws on their individual lockers in protest. In nearby Floyd County, students posted the Commandments as a sign of solidarity until their own school administrators banned the practice.

The Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit “litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom,” reports:

On February 23, Jacob Agee and other students who are members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes posted copies of the Ten Commandments on their assigned lockers. Very quickly thereafter, Principal Barry Hollandsworth and Assistant Principal Tony Deibler removed each copy. Liberty Counsel then sent a letter to the Floyd County High School administration, requesting the reversal of their censorship of religious material posted by school students on the face of the students’ lockers. Liberty Counsel gave school officials two weeks to reverse course or face a federal lawsuit.

In a letter (.pdf)addressed to the Liberty Counsel released Thursday, Floyd County Division Superintendent Terry Arbogast announced that school administrators were reviewing and revising their policies governing students’ rights to post non-school items on their individual lockers.  In the meantime, Arbogast wrote, students will be able to post copies of the Ten Commandments on their lockers as requested.

The Liberty Council immediately praised the decision.

A tour of the school reveals a variety of student expressions of school spirit, support of activities, birthday well wishes, social causes, and so on. In this case, the school has opened up student lockers for student expression but was monitoring and censoring religious speech. To censor the Ten Commandments under these circumstances clearly violated the students’ free speech.

Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, stated, “We are very pleased that the students at Floyd County High School can post the Ten Commandments on their lockers. I applaud the school officials for doing the right thing, and I am especially proud of the students. There is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion and student speech endorsing religion. While a school could prohibit all stickers on student lockers, school officials cannot selectively discriminate against religious viewpoints, while allowing other secular viewpoints.”

“There is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion and student speech endorsing religion,” the organization concluded.  “While a school could prohibit all stickers on student lockers, school officials cannot selectively discriminate against religious viewpoints. We are especially proud of these students.”

Meanwhile, students at Giles High School are continuing to protest the removal of the Ten Commandments from their schools.  Earlier this week, more than 200 students staged a walk-out to protest the school board’s decision.

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