Jesse Card: Ten Commandments Litigant

The Freedom From Religion Foundation reserves two awards per year for students or young people who are activists for freethought or the separation of church and state. Past recipients have included Darrell Lambert, the atheist Eagle Scout from Washington expelled by the Boy Scouts in 2002.

It seems Washington is growing a great crop of young freethinking activists,” said Foundation staffer Annie Laurie Gaylor, in awarding Jesse Card, of Everett, Wash., a check for $1,000.00 at the Pacific Northwest FFRF Mini-Convention in Seattle on July 10, 2004.

Jesse is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed in July 2003, challenging placement of a Ten Commandments monument near city council chambers 55 years ago by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

“We are watching his lawsuit with great hope,” Annie Laurie said, in introducing him. His remarks at the conference, held at the Red Lion Hotel, are reprinted below.

By Jesse Card


Jesse Card
Photo by Brent Nicastro

Thanks to everybody.

Annie Laurie wanted me to come up here and talk a little bit about my story and what’s been going on.

I was raised Mormon, lived in Utah until I was about nine. My family was all Mormon; they have six kids. Like five times too many cousins, but you know. Most of my family isn’t Mormon anymore, kind of have similar views to me or somewhat near that.

In 10th or 11th grade, I’d been into atheist civil rights for quite a while. I was reading a bit about Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and all these different groups. And I was reading press releases, getting kind of riled up and writing letters. So I was thinking, “Well, I don’t know any local groups around here,” so I decided I’d make a little club at my high school. It was very difficult just to get my flyers up in the first place. That wasn’t even the worst of it, because it turned out that even after I got them up, they only stayed up for about five minutes. I went through 40 within the first week.

At the first meeting, I had to meet off-campus, a few miles away somewhere in town, and I got maybe five people. Basically the same people who came to hang out with me anyway.

A lot of them are just like, “Well, what’s an atheist?” So it was kind of a little opportunity to educate some people.

But after high school, I got a job at my current location, it’s a nonprofit thrift store. I was coming into work every day on the bus, and the bus stop that I go to is right in front of the police station. So every day I’d go past and I noticed the Ten Commandments marker. Well, that didn’t look right, that’s the City Hall, it says on the side. So just a couple of days later, I e-mailed Americans United for Separation of Church and State. They said they were already aware of it and just that “we’re thinking about it.” Then, a few months later, they said, “Oh, yeah, well, about that. We are going to do this case, and we’d like you to sign on as a co-plaintiff.”

So they sent me the papers and I signed on as co-plaintiff, and then I find out that I’m the only plaintiff. A little bit of a surprise, but it worked out fine, because I didn’t really care. So long as it gets removed.

I walk past this thing, and it just doesn’t seem right to me whatsoever to have this giant granite marker with the Ten Commandments on it. Those aren’t universal values. I mean, “I am the Lord, thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me”? That doesn’t sound very universal. I have friends who are polytheists. How does that apply to them? I have friends that are atheists. How does that apply to them?

Freedom From Religion Foundation