Public Art: Ten Commandment Monument
Sculptor: Original design by Brown and Bigelow
Date: June 1956
Description: Non-denominational Ten Commandments etched onto red Minnesota granite tablet. The text includes symbols from both Judaism and Christianity, including the Star of David, “all-seeing eye” and Chi & Rho. It also features the patriotic symbols of the eagle and the American flag.
Location: In Lincoln Park located on the Colorado State Capitol grounds, Denver, Colorado, United States.
Funded by: Fraternal Order of Eagles
Created at: Mihelich Monument Company of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Original Cost: A 5ft monolith cost $200 and a 6ft one cost $325.
History: The Ten Commandment monument was unveiled in the Colorado State Capitol grounds in 1956 and from then on has been shrouded in controversy. The main bone of contention was that many citizens felt uneasy about placing a religious object on tax-supported property. Why some thought it was okay to symbolize the religious foundation of America, others were not so sure, seeing it as a symbolic gesture of the unity of church and state.
In 1989 this small stone tablet met head-on with controversy. The commotion went all the way to the Supreme Court of Colorado. The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the placement of a religious monument in a city park. They went to court to have the Ten Commandments monument removed from the Capitol grounds. In fact, there were three identical monuments being argued, one in Denver, Salt Lake City and Manhattan.
In 1992 the trial judge ruled that the Ten Commandments were the basis of constitutional law but, believe it or not, in June 1993, the Foundation won the case before the Colorado Court of Appeals. The State Supreme Court in November 1994 reversed the appeals court ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1995, refused to take the case. The Colorado Supreme Court found that the placement of the monument, in Denver’s park was not a violation of the constitution, concluding that it was not erected with the purpose of endorsing religion. When I filmed the monument in 2007 no one gave the tablet a second look.
Background to the Ten Commandments Monument: The monument had been donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles as part of a program established in the 1940s. The program was the brainchild of a Minnesota judge, E. J. Ruegemer (1903-2005), who believed juvenile delinquents needed to have a “code of conduct” in which to govern their actions by. He used the ten commandments as an example, being one of the earliest known codes, to make his point.
At the same time, he made it very clear he was not using the commandments to endorse religion but simply to show that all of the laws in the country dealing with human relations were based upon those ten. The judge then began posting copies of the commandments in State Juvenile Courts around the country as part of a nationwide youth guidance program. Also being chairman of the Youth Guidance Committee of the Fraternal Order of Eagles he tried to persuade the Eagles into financing the program. They rejected the idea on the grounds that it might be seen as too sectarian. Not happy with the decision, the judge organised representatives from the Jewish, Protestant and Catholic faiths to develop a version of the commandments which would be non-denominational.
The Eagles finally agreed to financially support the youth guidance program. Cecil B.DeMille (famous film producer), who began filming the movie “Ten Commandments” in the 1950s, got wind of the judge’s youth program and rang him. DeMille suggested that the new version of the commandments could be distributed via bronze plaques around the country to promote not only the youth program but his new movie (of course). The judge liked the idea but thought it better to have the commandments placed on granite tablets.
The Eagles funded the project and donated the monuments to several local and State governments. DeMille allowed several of the actors from the movie to help unveil some of the granite monuments.
The Ten Commandments
I AM the LORD thy God
I Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
II Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord
thy God in vain.
III Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
IV Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy
days may be long upon the land which the
Lord thy God giveth thee.
V Thou shalt not kill.
VI Thou shalt not commit adultery.
VII Thou shalt not steal
VIII Thou shalt not hear false witness against
IX Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
X Thous shalt not covert thy neighbor’s wife, nor
his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his
cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.
by members of
Fraternal Order of
Commandment Controversies: In 1985 the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging a Ten Commandments monument in a public park in La Crosse, Wisconsin, donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
In 2001 American Civil Liberties Union filed suit to relocate a monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The group opposed the presence of the monument outside the Grand Junction City Hall. In response, hundreds of Grand Junction residents packed the council chambers to voice support for the statue.
In 2006 The Society of Separationists dropped its efforts to force the removal of a Ten Commandments monument in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
In 2018, a New Mexico community owes $700,000 in legal fees following a 2012 lawsuit filed on behalf of two Bloomfield residents. The monument was installed in front of City Hall in 2011. Not long after the two residents sued the city alleging it violated their constitutional rights and represented a government endorsement of religion. They won. As for the monument, it now sits in the grounds of a Baptist church.
In August 2018 protestors of the Ten Commandments monument in Little Rock placed a statue of Baphomet, a winged-goat creature in the capitol grounds. The Satanic Temple, a national organization with 15 chapters in the U.S., objected to exclusively Christian religious displays on public property.
Trivia: There are believed to be 145 Ten Commandment monuments scattered throughout 34 states. It is unknown where all of them are or if they are still in their original location as many had to be moved due to the ongoing lawsuits.
Where are they now? :
1954 presented to the City of Chicago
1956 Martha Scott(actress) presented a monument to Pittsburgh.
1956 Charlton Heston presented one to International Peace Garden on the North Dakota-Canadian border
1957 Yul Brynner presented one which became the cornerstone for addition to city hall in Milwaukee
1961 Installed on Texas State Capitol Grounds in Austin by Fraternal Order of Eagles of Texas
1964 erected in Phoenix, Arizona by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in connection to Cecil B. DeMille
2012 on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, in Oklahoma City. Continually vandalized.
2017 on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds and destroyed within 24 hours of installation replaced in 2018
NPR, Satanic Temple Protests Ten Commandments Monument With Goat-Headed Statue by VANESSA ROMO
August 17, 2018.
The Denver Post, Legal bill hits $700,000 in fight over Ten Commandments monument in rural New Mexico Monument has been moved from city hall to land owned by Baptist church, By DANA COFFIELD, February 19, 2018