Humansville students find creative way to keep Ten Commandments
By Allen Palmeri
March 30, 2004
|Sophomore Kathy Coffin, left, and freshman Joanna Christy hold up copies of the Ten Commandments they helped post at Humansville High School . Christy came up with the idea in response to a lawsuit filed by the parent of a student. Pathway photo by Allen Palmeri|
HUMANSVILLE – A 11-inch-by-14-inch plaque engraved with the Ten Commandments that had been hanging in the cafeteria at Humansville High School is the object of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
Carrie Roat of Nixa, whose son attends the high school, is seeking to have the plaque removed, saying she has suffered “distinct and palpable injuries" because of the commandments being displayed, the Springfield News-Leader reported. Her attorney, Steven Meier of Nixa, said the lawsuit is about someone standing up for her constitutional rights.
Humansville Superintendent Greg Thompson is a defendant in the case along with Principal Brenda Vangilder and Administrator Janice Hogan. Thompson has retained Springfield defense attorney Dee Wampler, a member of Second Baptist Church, Springfield. Wampler told the News-Leader he will work pro bono. The district is being represented by attorney Jay Kirksey.
On March 24 at the high school, at least 50 orange pieces of paper with black lettering – orange and black are the school colors – went up all over the school. The papers contained the Ten Commandments. Freshman Joanna Christy, a member of First Baptist Church, Humansville, came up with the idea as a way to stand up for her faith. She made sure she placed one of the papers on the brick column where the plaque used to be.
“They’re throwing a fit about the Ten Commandments, so we’ll keep them where they were," Christy said.
Thompson was delighted by what he called “a beautiful response from the children." In the midst of answering several phone calls to his office March 24, he told one of his defense attorneys what the students had done with the Ten Commandments.
“It was in the cafeteria, but it’s pretty well all over the school now," Thompson said.
Thompson said he put up the plaque six years ago because he believes in Matthew 22:37-38. As such, he seeks to love God and his neighbor. Hanging the Ten Commandments fits directly into his philosophy.
“It was another way that we could show love to the children," he said.
The plaque was taken off the wall March 23. Thompson told the News-Leader that he was alerted of the plaque’s whereabouts and that it had been taken down by a student wishing to protect it.
“We put up an announcement, ‘Whoever borrowed the Ten Commandments, please put it up when you’re finished,’" said freshman Heather Lamoreaux, a member of First Humansville.
Reggie Curtis, pastor, First Humansville, said he feels great about Christy’s idea to post copies of the Ten Commandments all over the school. “It tells me that something her parents are doing and the church is doing is working," he said.
Another member of the church’s youth group, sophomore Kathy Coffin, said the response by the 133-member student body has been positive. Humansville is a city of about 1,000 in the northwest corner of Polk County .
“A lot of the people who normally would not be religious have opened up and wanted to help, asked for copies of things to hang up and gave me ideas that I didn’t even have," Coffin said.
According to the suit, the News-Leader reported that Roat is claiming damages as a property owner and taxpayer in the Humansville district. But Polk County officials said she is delinquent in paying two years worth of property taxes on a home in her name in Humansville. Roat owes $319.79, county collector Debbi McGinnis said.
The Humansville Ten Commandments case has grown to where it is now a part of the governor’s race. The three major candidates – Republican Matt Blunt, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Democrat Gov. Bob Holden – released statements to the news media on the brewing controversy.
Blunt told Missourinet.com March 25 that all Missourians who feel strongly about this issue should have their voices heard. Blunt, who attends Second Baptist Church, Springfield, said he does not think there is much merit to the lawsuit, saying he does not understand how the Ten Commandments could be considered offensive.
McCaskill, the state auditor who is challenging Holden in the Democratic primary, told www.Missourinet.com March 25 that while no one should be denied access to the courts, she would rather see money going into the classroom than into the courtroom.
Holden’s office March 26 released a statement that reads as follows: “There’s a place for the Ten Commandments in our schools, but the best way to ensure that these important principles end up in our schools is for parents to teach the Ten Commandments to their children. The Ten Commandments should be etched in the hearts and minds of children before sending them out of the house."
Wampler, a Southern Baptist attorney who has spent years studying church/state issues and is the author of The Myth of Separation Between Church & State, told the News-Leader he will push to have the case dismissed.