By Marie McCain and Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Dozens of protesters wept and prayed Monday as a crane scooped up granite tablets bearing the Ten Commandments and removed them from four public schools in Adams County.
Some in the crowd carried "God Bless America" signs, while others held hands and sang "Amazing Grace."
Sheriff's deputies briefly detained at least 30 protesters, including several ministers, after they locked arms and knelt in prayer in front of the crane, slowing efforts to remove the 800-pound monuments.
"I am willing to do whatever it takes - to be arrested or whatever," said Rev. Phil Fulton, who was detained but not charged with a crime. "This is our religious right. This is our freedom of speech."
The removal was the culmination of a four-year legal debate over the placement of the Ten Commandments on public school property. A federal judge ruled last year that the monuments had to go because it was unconstitutional for a public school to endorse a particular religion.
Despite the judge's order, at least 50 protesters were waiting at 9 a.m. Monday when the crane and a work crew arrived at Peebles High School to take down the first of the four tablets.
"It's a sad day in our country when we turn our backs on God," said Tim Daniel, a West Union resident who was among the protesters. "The Ten Commandments are not allowed to be taught in school, but what's wrong with exposing kids to God's word?"
The gathering at Peebles began as a pep rally for those who wanted the monument to stay. But the crowd became more defiant as the crane moved into position and workers attempted to attach a harness to pull it from the ground.
Protesters surrounded the monument and locked arms, refusing to make way for the crane. Sheriff's deputies, unsure they could enforce a federal court order, did nothing to disperse the crowd.
Instead, after more than an hour, they escorted the work crew to another monument, at West Union High School some 25 miles away.
When the protesters realized what was happening, they formed a caravan and raced from Peebles to West Union. Once there, they again encircled the monument.
By then, school officials had talked to their lawyers, who told them they would be in contempt of a court order if they did not instruct the sheriff's deputies to remove the protesters from school property.
"A judge's order is a judge's order," said Francis Manion, the school board's lawyer. "We think (the judge) got it wrong, but it's the school board's duty to remove the monuments."
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union said they would seek contempt charges against the school district if the monuments remained standing another day. The ACLU sued in 1999 on behalf of a parent who wanted the monuments removed, even though the school board had claimed a majority of parents wanted them to remain.
"There are some things in America we don't vote on," said ACLU lawyer Scott Greenwood. "We don't vote on which religion is most popular and gets to have its message spread by government bodies."
Few shared those sentiments Monday afternoon in West Union, where the protesters stood their ground in front of the monument despite a request from school officials to leave. "Stand up for your rights," read a sign carried by one protester. "Ban the ACLU."
The crowd finally relented when sheriff's deputies approached and began escorting them from school property. The deputies briefly took them into custody but later released them without filing charges.
After the monument was removed at West Union, some of the same protesters who had been detained followed the crew to the other schools and again stood in front of the monuments there.
But one by one, the tablets were removed, first from West Union, then Peebles and then North Adams. The last stop was Manchester High School.
"I have three kids and I don't want them going to a school without God in it," said Megan Smith, who protested at Manchester.
Theressa Mangus, also of Manchester, watched her two teen-age daughters sit atop the monument there until the deputies came for them. She then headed into the crowd to join the protest.
"I guess I'll get arrested, too," she said. All three were quickly released.
When the last monument was loaded on a truck and carried away, the protesters joined with the deputies, school officials and Sheriff Kermit Howard in a prayer.
School officials vowed to continue their fight in appeals court.
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