Residents of a small Oklahoma town are heartbroken after the school district, under threat of a lawsuit, decided to remove Ten Commandments plaques that had been placed in nearly every classroom.
“We are pleased the school administration has removed the Ten Commandments, in compliance with the Constitution,” said Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement. “We hope the Board will ‘Honor thy constitution,’ and heed the advice of its attorney rather than to acquiesce to pressure from a religious mob.”
Ron Flanagan, the superintendent of Muldrow Public Schools, told Fox News they had no choice but to comply with the demands of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“It is kind of sad in a way,” Flanagan said. “It’s been a part of our school system for a long time. It was a tough thing to deal with.”
Hundreds of Christians across the community had drawn a line in the sand and vowed to fight back against the national association of atheists and agnostics. Students rallied the faithful through social networking websites. Churches distributed Ten Commandments t-shirts. Other residents launched a petition drive.
But on Monday night a standing-room only crowd heard the disappointing news – the Ten Commandments plaques had to be removed.
“We took them down,” Flanagan said. “We understood some did not agree with that decision. As a school district we have an obligation to demonstrate respect and adherence to the law.”
Flanagan said they consulted with the school district’s attorney and they were advised that it was a lawsuit they could not win.
The Ten Commandments had been posted in nearly every classroom for as far back as anyone can remember. There were about 100 plaques – donated by local residents.
But Gage Pulliam, a student at Muldrow High School, raised concerns about the plaques and sent a letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“People think I’m attacking their religion,” Pulliam told 5-News. “I’m really not. I’m trying to help others so they can feel equal in a world, in a town. I just want them to feel equal.”
“This is settled law,” Gaylor said. “Public schools cannot advance or endorse religion.”
Flanagan hopes the community will understand that the fight is not against the school district.
“They made it clear last night – this fight is not against us – it’s against the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.
And while the community is upset about the controversy – many residents and ministers are quick to show their support for Flanagan and other school officials.
“It’s tough for them,” said Josh Moore, pastor of the First Baptist Church. “Their hands are tied from a legal perspective. We’re supporting them and ministering to them. We don’t want to alienate their or throw them under the bus.”
Moore was among local ministers concerned about the attack on their community by an out-of-town organization.
“It’s Christianity under attack within our own country,” he told Fox News.“The irony can’t be missed by anyone who’s lived in this country or grown up in this country.”
For now the Ten Commandments are stored in Flanagan’s office. He said they will probably return the displays to the original donors.
Flanagan said he is proud of the way the young people in the community rallied around the religious symbol and standing up for their beliefs.
“It speaks highly of those young people,” he said, while also noting he has respect for the student who filed the complaint. “We respect his rights, too.”