Commandments Debate Commands Attention (October 2003)

Opening with a prayer to St. Francis, a public debate on “The Place of Religion in the Public Square,” sponsored by Viterbo University, a Franciscan Catholic school, took place on Sept. 9 in the university’s Fine Arts Theatre in La Crosse, Wis. La Crosse is the site of the Foundation’s current legal challenge over a Ten Commandments monument in a city park. Pictured at the event: organizer and moderator Richard Kyte with the Philosophy Department of Viterbo University; Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a former minister who argued for a strict separation between church and state; Francis Manion, senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, and Scott Moore, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University.

Manion, who identified himself as a Catholic during the debate, claimed there is nothing in the Constitution prohibiting a local majority from promoting religion, insisting that “separation of state and church is a myth.”

Manion is representing the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which is seeking to intervene in the appeal, since the city sold it the land and monument after the Foundation filed suit last summer. A federal judge ruled this summer that the presence of the monument violates the Constitution, as does the sale of prime real estate to maintain a religious symbol as the centerpiece of a public park.

Moore said that although religion is extremely important, he would not mind seeing the monument moved from the park. S

ince the debate began with the prayer of St. Francis of Asissi, “Where there is doubt, let me put faith,” Dan ended the debate by saying: “Where there is doubt, let me put reason.”

More than 500 people attended the 2-hour event, including many of the 22 plaintiffs in the Foundation’s lawsuit. For information on how to obtain a video copy of the debate, contact Dan Barker.

Freedom From Religion Foundation