22 Sign On to Ten Commandments Lawsuit (September 2002)

Twenty-two La Crosse-area residents agreed to be named plaintiffs and join the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s federal lawsuit challenging a Ten Commandments monument in a city park in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The Foundation originally filed its legal complaint on July 1 with “Jane and John Doe,” La Crosse Foundation members, seeking a protective order to keep the names confidential.

In July, the man who filed as “John Doe” died. Federal Magistrate Steve Crocker of Madison subsequently ruled in late July against the Foundation’s confidentiality request. The Foundation had less than a week to find plaintiffs willing to be named, for the lawsuit to continue. When Foundation president Anne Gaylor was quoted in the La Crosse Tribune noting that the ruling jeopardized the Foundation’s lawsuit, many La Crosse-area citizens volunteered to become plaintiffs.

“It is heartening that so many residents came forward to defend the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state,” said Foundation president Anne Gaylor. “We think this makes a firm statement to the community, showing widespread concern that religion not be promoted by government.”

The outpouring of new plaintiffs was big news in La Crosse, where the Foundation’s request to move the Ten Commandments monument to private property had been headlined for months.

The Foundation had asked for the protective order for its original plaintiffs because of initial community hostility. The La Crosse City Council led the opposition, and antagonistic letters to the editor filled the editorial pages. Cardboard and plastic replicas of the bible edicts, peddled by a fundamentalist minister, have appeared on many lawns. A national Christian radio network devoted whole programs to denouncing the Foundation’s efforts. Nasty e-mails arrived regularly at the Foundation’s office. More than 4,000 area residents signed a petition urging the city to maintain the Ten Commandments in Cameron Park.

“We appreciate all our new plaintiffs,” said Gaylor, “and are especially grateful to Sue Mercier, Hank Zumack and Maureen Freedland for special help. It’s heartwarming to see this response.”

The diverse list of plaintiffs includes Foundation members, local Unitarian-Universalists, two Jewish women, a Catholic man and others. Some plaintiffs totally avoid using Cameron Park and nearby businesses because of the presence of the religious monolith.

Many avoid the park, but indicate they are distressed that they must go past the religious monument if they wish to go to the bank, shop at the Farmer’s Market at Cameron Park, or at the People’s Food Co-op located across the street. Another plaintiff was a member of the U.S. Navy, and as a military officer, took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, which he believes is violated by the presence of the bible edicts in the center of a public park

Freedom From Religion Foundation