A Virginia school district superintendent warned that a Bible verse etched into a bench memorializing a high school student who was killed in an ATV accident last year must be removed.
According to Charlotte County Schools Superintendent Nancy Leonard, the memorial bench placed on school grounds at Randolph Henry High School in honor of graduate Colton Blake Osborn, who died last August, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The reason why the bench, which was placed next to the school's baseball field in the spring, is considered a violation of the First Amendment is because it has the New Testament verse Philippians 4:13 etched into the bottom of the back rest. The verse states: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." The Establishment Clause states that the government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
It was only recently that the county school board discovered that the bench was not legally compliant. According to WSET, the discovery was made after the school system worked with its lawyer to come up with a policy on how to best handle the frequent requests it receives for memorials.
"During that work, we found that the memorial bench that we currently have is not legally compliant because of the Establishment Clause because of the Bible verse," Leonard told the ABC affiliate.
WSET reports that it was the community's idea to place the bench on school property. The bench was officially dedicated with a ceremony during a baseball game.
"The community of Charlotte County is a very sweet and loving community and they do frequently request to give memorials," Leonard added.
Although WSET reports that the school district hasn't received any complaints about the bench or the Scripture etched into it, Leonard wants to make a change to ensure that the school is not promoting Christianity.
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"We either have to remove the bench or we have to remove the Scripture or we have to change that verse to something else that may represent the child," Leonard explained.
The school district will work with Osborn's family to figure out the best way to to change the bench in a way that still honors their deceased loved one.
The proactive measure by the school district comes as school districts across the country have been pressured to remove references to Christianity or the Bible from school grounds and, in some cases, even emails.
In September, a school district in Indiana forced a school secretary to remove a reference to Hebrews 6:19 from her official school email signature after it received pressure from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, who claimed the secretary's email signature violated the Establishment Clause.
In August, FFRF, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state, pressured an Oklahoma elementary school to remove a display that referenced Numbers 6:24 from its front office.
Also in August, it was reported that a school district painted over a mural referencing Hebrews 6:19 that was on the wall of a New Mexico public school hallway after receiving pressure from FFRF.
FFRF argues that displays such as the Hebrews mural or the Numbers 6:24 sign on public school grounds can be considered a state promotion of Christianity and sends the message that the state prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other religions.