Religious Right Campaign Launched From Upper Michigan. Alabama Of The North? (August 1997)

A campaign to place the Ten Commandments in all county courthouses in Michigan and Wisconsin has been launched by a member of the Christian Family Association.

Dennis Pape, a self-described “mining consultant,” has received many print and on-air interviews to discuss his proselytizing effort to entangle religion and government. A resident of Menomonie, Michigan, Pape lives on the Wisconsin border–hence his two-state attempt.

The Christian Family Association of Gadsden, Alabama is a group formed within the past two years to support Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who is defying rulings on courtroom prayer and display of the Ten Commandments.

The first county board in Wisconsin formally to consider the request of Pape and the Christian group to place the biblical rules is Brown County, whose county seat is the city of Green Bay.

Even staid Green Bay has some reservations about Pape’s project. Some officials have suggested that any vote be postponed pending the outcome of the Moore case. And a former county board supervisor wrote in a Green Bay daily: “The sponsorship by government of any nonsecular entity or tenet is a step toward government becoming that entity and enforcing that nonsecular tenet. At that point we become what our founders and their followers fled.”

The Christian Family Association’s agenda apparently is not limited to courtrooms. Our society, Pape proclaimed on Wisconsin Public Radio on July 14, “wants boys to carry purses and girls to carry footballs”–one of his examples of society’s decline and “need to return to God.”

God is not the only deity the country must return to, according to Pape, who repeatedly asserts that this is a “Christian nation” meant to be ruled by Christians, an assertion widely supported in Alabama. In a 1997 poll of Alabamans, 50% said they did not believe a non-Christian should be elected as president or governor.

While awaiting the decision of the Brown County Board, Pape and his followers are hoping to arrange appearances before other county officials in Wisconsin and Michigan. An appearance before the Wisconsin legislature also will be sought, according to Pape.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent letters to the chairs of all Wisconsin county boards discussing the legal problems of Pape’s proposal.

Anne Gaylor, Foundation president, pointed out the Wisconsin Constitution forbids the state from giving “any preference . . . by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

“The first commandment alone makes it very clear that its placement in a public courthouse is unconstitutional. It says, ‘Thou shall have no other gods before me.’ Our country was founded on religious freedom which means that its citizens are free to have any god they like, as many as they like, or no god at all. Government may not dictate which gods are to be worshipped.”

Gaylor also reminded the county boards that Alabama Circuit Judge Charles Price just received the John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage” Award for defending a constitutional principle in ordering Moore to remove the Ten Commandments from above his bench.

Freedom From Religion Foundation