WASHINGTON — A framed copy of the Ten Commandments that had been on display at a Virginia public high school would be replaced by a page from a history textbook depicting the commandment tablets and highlighting their role in the "roots of democracy."
The swap would be made under a proposed settlement of a lawsuit that contended displaying the text of the commandments violated the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which sued the Giles County school board, and Liberty Counsel, which represented the school board, applauded the proposed settlement.
The textbook page, titled "Roots of Democracy," depicts the tablets, followed by the statement: "The values found in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus, inspired American ideas about government and morality." The page mentions other influences on America, such as the Magna Carta and ancient Greek democracy.
The lawsuit set off an emotional debate in the small Appalachian county over whether displaying the commandments alongside copies of the Declaration of Independence, "The Star-Spangled Banner," the Magna Carta and other documents was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion or part of an educational exhibit of historic documents.
As a potential compromise, a federal judge raised the idea of posting only the last six commandments because they don't mention God.
Though lawyers for the parties praised the proposed settlement, the public remained divided, based on the comments posted on the Roanoke Times website.
"They did the right thing, because it's a public school with a diverse student body," one person said.
"It's a shame that one student through the ACLU can have control over the majority of citizens in Giles County who want the Ten Commandments to remain on the walls of the school," another said. "One of these days God is going to judge those who wish to forget the Judeo-Christian principles upon which this great nation was founded."
Rebecca Glenberg, legal director at the ACLU of Virginia, said her clients, an unidentified high school student and parent, were pleased.
"We feel that the removal of the Ten Commandments will make the Giles County public schools a much more welcoming place for students of any faith or no faith at all," she said in an interview.
Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said the display "shows the development of law and government and continues to retain the Ten Commandments as part of that history."
The proposed settlement must be approved by a federal judge.