On August 27, 2016, 18-year-old Colton Osborne of Charlotte County, Virginia, passed away after an ATV accident.
Following Osborne’s passing, the community decided to erect a memorial bench in his honor. The bench was placed next to the Randolph Henry High School baseball field, as Osborne loved the sport. Engraved into the bench, which is on school property, is a verse from Philippians chapter four, verse 13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Now, according to WSET, a Charlotte County ABC affiliate, school Superintendent Nancy Leonard says the verse has to go:
... we found that the memorial bench that we currently have is not legally compliant because of the establishment clause because of the Bible verse. … We have to remove the bench, or cover the scripture or change that verse to something else that may represent the child.
The school hasn't faced any complaints regarding the scripture on the bench.
The Establishment Clause in the Constitution’s First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
It's unclear why the school is interpreting the Establishment Clause in such a way as to necessitate the removal of the scripture from the memorial bench. No rational person would claim that the presence of a bible verse on this memorial shows a favoritism toward Christianity, or counts as an official endorsement of one religion over another.
Despite having had no complaints, the school seems to fear the memorial might trigger a lawsuit — and such a fear isn't unfounded. There are people whose lives are dedicated to erasing any and all traces of Christian faith from public grounds, regardless of whether or not it violates the Establishment Clause.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), for example, excels at these types of head-turning lawsuits. In 2016, they filed suit against Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, “to remove a Latin cross from the official county seal and flag.” In another case, the organization filed suit against “Brewster County [Texas] Sheriff Ronny Dodson over his decision to affix Latin cross decals on county patrol vehicles.”
This is a dismal marker of where we stand as a society. A young man passes away, and the community decides to remember him with a memorial bench. The bench happens to have a bible verse etched into it, and because the school is afraid of litigation, they feel they must scrub the passage.