Hoping to avoid a costly legal drama, a public high school in Muldrow, Okla., late last week pulled down all the Ten Commandments plaques that had been posted on classroom walls.
“When it’s clearly decided, there’s no point in continuing to fight a losing battle,” Muldrow Schools attorney Jerry Richardson told CBS local affiliate News On 6.
The move was announced Monday night at an emotional school board meeting, where county residents arrived with Bibles in hand and Christian sayings emblazoned on their cars and clothing, reported area news outlet Southwest Times Record.
“We know that in 1980 the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to have the Ten Commandments in public schools for religious purposes,” said Muldrow First Assembly of God Senior Pastor Shawn Money at the meeting, according to the Times Record. “[But] we disagree.”
Controversy gripped the small eastern Oklahoma town in March, when Muldrow High School student Gage Pulliam sent a photo of one of the school’s religious plaques to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national nonprofit organization devoted to protecting the separation of church and state.
“People think I’m attacking their religion. I’m really not,” Pulliam told local news channel KFSM-TV. “I just want [people] to feel equal here.”
The FFRF responded to Pulliam’s concerns by sending a letter asking Muldrow Schools Superintendent Ron Flanagan to remove the plaques and insinuating that a lawsuit could result if the school did not comply.
The letter caused an intense backlash in Muldrow. Politicians and church officials spoke dramatically of “Christianity under attack,” multiple petitions were signed by hundreds of people and a local church gave out free Ten Commandments t-shirts to students.
Following the decision to remove the plaques from Muldrow schools, the FFRF released a statement from the organization’s Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We are pleased the school administration has removed the Ten Commandments, in compliance with the Constitution,” she said. “This is settled law. Public schools cannot advance or endorse religion.”
Part of the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The clause has been interpreted through the years to prohibit governmental preference of one religion over another.
In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky statute that had mandated every public school classroom have the Ten Commandments posted on its walls. The ruling came to prevent public schools from displaying the Ten Commandments year-round.