An atheist group is threatening a lawsuit against a West Virginia junior high school for hosting a memorial to a beloved teacher because the memorial has angels on it, Fox News is reporting.
Joann Christy had taught at Ravenswood Middle School in Ravenswood, West Virginia, for 26 years until she was killed in a car accident in 2004. After she died, the community raised money to erect a stone memorial to her at the school’s entrance.
Christy was a devout Christian, and the memorial recognized her faith by originally containing crosses, as well angels etched into the stone. Family friend Tracy Sadecky said that the memorial kept her friend’s memory alive for the community, and for the hundreds of kids who were touched by her.
“There’s so many kids that came through this school that were affected by her death, that were affected by her teachings, and now we’re just trying to keep her memory alive here.”
However, on February 11, the Jackson County School District received a letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, according to WSAZ (Huntington), asking that the school look into “serious constitutional violations” regarding religious symbols at schools in the district, including not just Christy’s memorial, but also a live nativity scene at the high school’s Christmas concert.
“We respectfully request that you investigate the matters at Ravenswood High School and Middle School to ensure that the school concerts and displays meet the requirements of the Constitution.”
It is unclear, as of this post, why the atheist group is taking exception to the memorial ten years after it was originally erected.
Christy’s family has since removed the offending crosses, but they will not budge on the angels. Sadecky said the angels are not about religion; they’re about who Christy was as a person.
“She collected them, she had them in her classroom, she had them in her house, so it’s something we thought would be a great addition.”
WSAZ contacted Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney with Freedom From Religion Foundation, to clarify their position on the memorial.
“The First Amendment mandates that schools cannot advance or promote religion, so that’s what this display is doing.”
However, it appears that the Foundation may be willing to compromise on the presence of angels on the memorial — at least, in the abstract.
“If there is an angel, that is more so a representative of that particular person. I’m not sure there would be a legal issue with that.”
Do you believe that the atheist group is in the right to demand that the memorial be removed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
[Image courtesy of Fox News]