“Seek and Ye Shall Find”: Plaintiffs Found for Giles County Ten Commandments Suit

Three weeks ago after discovering that the initial individual to complain about the Giles County Public School System’s display of the 10 Commandments in each of the county’s schools lacked standing to sue the county, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation began actively searching for a new plaintiff and it found two.

The atheist and agnostic group that opposes posting the Ten Commandments in Giles County schools says it is ready to wage a lawsuit against the school board, though the group hasn’t yet filed its case.

Two Giles County families with children in public school will force the issue into court as plaintiffs, according to Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation will work jointly with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia to represent the families.

“Plaintiffs with children in the schools have come forward,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion’s co-president, said on the organization’s Feb. 12 radio program.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation also announced that it would be joined in the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. (Apparently the ACLUVA grew tired of an out-of-state group receiving all the headlines and donations that it once received.) The Lynchburg-based Liberty Counsel is prepared to advise and/or defend Giles County when the suit is filed if the county requests its services.

Stan Barnhill, a First-Amendment attorney with Woods Rogers PLC, told Roanoke CBS affiliate WDBJ-7 that the success of the suit likely hinges on the intent behind the Ten Commandments’ placement in the schools: if the commandments were placed in the schools for a religious reason, Giles County will likely lose. If, however, the commandments were added for a secular purpose–to be part of a display of historic legal documents, for instance–Giles County is likely to prevail. Interestingly, both motivations appear to be behind the initial decision as Rev. Shahn Wilburn, a local minister, proposed that they be displayed in the wake of the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, however the Ten Commandments hang directly below the U.S. Constitution in display cases at each of the county’s four public schools.

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