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A Pennsylvania pastor has begun a campaign to erect Ten Commandments monuments throughout his town after a lawsuit threatened to have a Ten Commandments statue removed from the local junior high school.
Businessman Pastor Ewing Marietta of Liberty Baptist Church in Connellsville, Pa., started the "Thou Shall Not Move" campaign in April, a year after the Freedom From Religion Foundation [FFRF] filed a lawsuit against the local Connellsville School District to have a Ten Commandments statue removed from its junior high school.
The lawsuit was filed by the FFRF on behalf of a mother and daughter from the school, who argued the Ten Commandments statue was not inclusive of all religions, as it only contained two Stars of David and the Ten Commandments. In an attempt to show support for the school district, Pastor Marietta began ordering Ten Commandments statues to be placed throughout the town for whoever wanted to have the monuments on their property. So far, Pastor Marietta has dedicated three monuments throughout the county, and has purchased a total of 14. Each one of the Ten Commandment monuments reportedly costs $1,685.
The grassroots group reportedly earned the money to purchase the statues by selling yard signs advocating the importance of religious freedom and supporting the Connellsville School District's Ten Commandments statue. The community has been largely in support of keeping the statue; the FFRF states on its website that two rallies in support of the monument took place before the Wisconsin-based legal group filed a lawsuit. Additionally, School Board President Robert Pallone has publicly vowed to fight for the school's monument.
Marietta told the local Tribune-Review that the "Thou Shall Not Move" initiative has four dedication events coming up in town, as well as a community gathering event in early October that will feature music, food, guest speakers, and events for children. The campaign also reportedly has 52 requests for monuments, and Marietta says they are distributing the monuments on a first come, first serve basis.
"Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, a Quaker who was in prison in England three times because of his religion, and came to this country for religious freedom," Marietta told the Tribune-Review. "People should be able to hold onto their religious morals and values without the threat of being thrown into jail. We don't want to force the Ten Commandments monuments on anyone, but we don't want them taken away from the public eye."
The monuments have so far been placed at the Juniata United Methodist Church in Dunbar Township, the Connellsville Eagles building, and the St. Paul AME Church in Uniontown. Connellsville is located about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburg.
At a monument dedication earlier in July at St. Paul's AME church, Marietta encouraged those in attendance to answer the call from God to defend their faith: "We must be strong and show courage," Marietta said, according to the Tribune-Review. "I'm not backing down. You're getting a call from God. Pick up God's call and answer it. The time is now to defend your faith."
The federal lawsuit between the FFRF and Connellsville School District is still pending. In their legal brief, filed in September 2012, the FFRF argued that the Ten Commandments statue could not sit on school grounds because it was unconstitutionally endorsing religion on a "captive audience."
The monument was donated in 1957 by the the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nonprofit charitable organization. The monument sits between five to six feet tall at the entrance of the junior high's auditorium, and includes the Ten Commandments, two stars of David, and an eagle with an American flag.