A Virginia school district says that a Bible verse engraved on bench memorializing a deceased student must be removed because it is not legal.
Charlotte County School Superintendent Nancy Leonard said that the school board determined that the engraving on the bench was illegal because it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which states that the government cannot “establish” a state-sponsored religion.
“We found that the memorial bench that we currently have is not legally compliant because of the Establishment Clause (in Constitution), because of the Bible verse,” Leonard told WAFF.
The verse from Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Leonard said the community often requests memorials, adding that it was a community’s idea to install the bench on the property of Randolph Henry High School.
“The community of Charlotte County is a very sweet and loving community, and they do frequently request to give memorials,” she said.
WSET reports that the school held a memorial service for ‘Cotton’ Colton Blake Osborne during a baseball game and dedicated the bench in his memory. Osborne died in an ATV accident in 2016.
Leonard stresses that the push to remove the verse was not because of complaints from the community and stated that officials were just trying to follow the law.
“We either have to remove the bench, or we have to cover the scripture or change that verse to something else that may represent the child,” she said.
The school system stated that they are working with the deceased student’s family to come up with an alternative quote that would replace the Bible verse. The school said it would cover the costs of changing the engraving on the bench.
Other towns have completely removed memorial benches for containing Bible verses. A North Carolina town removed a park bench honoring a 16-month-old toddler killed in a hit-and-run car crash in 2015 because it contained a Bible verse and two crosses.