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Ten Commandments lawsuit could cost thousands of dollars

The school board lists economic reasons for its latest decision to remove the Ten Commandments from schools

February 24, 2011|Karen Kiley | Reporter

GILES CO., Va. — What is it about Thou Shalt Not Kill and Thou Shalt Not Steal that bothers people?" asked Pastor Shahn Wilburn.

The Ten Commandments are down, but they may not be out in Giles County. Some people there are still fighting to put the Ten Commandments back on the walls of county schools.

The displays were removed Tuesday after a special school board meeting. According to minutes from the meeting, legal fees to defend the displays in expected lawsuits could reach in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, with possibly long odds of winning in court.

The school superintendent says he doesn't anticipate the Ten Commandments, in their current form, to return to the school walls any time soon.

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Signs are already popping up in neighborhoods, on cars, and soon on the highway, in protest of the school board's decision.

"I think it's a bad decision. I think it's part of history, and I think it should be left up," said Kathy Lucas, a Giles Co. resident.

"I don't see any harm in leaving it there, but if people are truly living by the Bible's principles, they don't need to have it displayed anywhere. It should be in their heart," said Giles Co. resident Jane Bowd.

If they aren't going to be on the school walls, people in Giles Co. are finding other places to display the Ten Commandments.

Pastor Shahn Wilburn from Riverview Baptist Church is spearheading the effort to bring the Ten Commandments back to Giles Co. schools. He originally donated the displays to the schools more than a decade ago in the wake of the Columbine shootings.

"We have the option of sitting back and saying nothing, or we have the option of at least expressing our opinion," said Wilburn.

He is getting 1,000 Ten Commandment car magnets made, to be handed out in his church Sunday. Several men from the church are working on a billboard to go up on the Route 460 bypass. Fliers, yard signs, and other Ten Commandment signs are also in the works.

"We're just keeping it before the public and before our folks, especially in front of our children. And by doing so, we are stressing to them that we believe the principles are worth fighting for," Wilburn explained.

"To spend that much money from the county, it's got to come from the taxpayers. It's got to take money from other funding in the county. It's just a lot of money. There are more important things that these kids need," said Elizabeth Robertson, a Giles Co. resident.

The school board removed the displays this week, in part due to economic reasons. Lawyers told the school board it could cost more than $300,000 to defend against expected lawsuits, according to minutes from Tuesday's special school board meeting.

"To be spending it on a law suit, it's ridiculous. They are going to lose anyways," said Sandra Gagliano, a Giles Co. resident who opposes the Ten Commandments being placed in schools.

The school board has reversed its decision in the past, so most people don't expect this to be the end.

Sarah McNair, a former Giles High School student, who first started speaking out against the Ten Commandments and other religious acts in her school back in 2004, says this latest move by the school board misses the whole point of the argument.

"I don't think the reasons why they are taking them down are the right reasons. I like the end, but maybe not the means. They are still saying they believe they should be posted, and the only reason they are down now is because of financial issues and legal issues," said McNair in a phone interview. 

McNair now lives in Norther Virginia and was recently honored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for first speaking out on this issue.

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