FFRF Victory: Milwaukee Decalog To Be Removed (August 2001)

Following three years of negotiations by the Freedom From Religion Foundation with the City of Milwaukee, it was agreed on July 19 to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the lawn of City Hall.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the bible monument was the first to be donated to a government by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The granite, tombstone-like monument was given to the city in 1955 and was placed near the entrance to the City Hall annex two years later.

Actor Yul Brenner, who played the Pharaoh in Cecil B. De Mille’s movie, “The Ten Commandments,” came to Milwaukee in 1957 for the dedication.

The campaign to place Ten Commandments monuments beside city halls, courthouses and in public parks was concocted by Judge E.J. Ruegemer of St. Cloud, Minnesota, who wanted to promote the bible edicts and Minnesota granite, and by filmmaker De Mille, who wanted to promote his bible epic.

Ruegemer told the Milwaukee Journal at that time:

“This will be the first time in the history of our country that a Ten Commandments monolith will be placed in a public building.”

The Foundation renewed its push to remove the Ten Commandments from the Zeidler Municipal Building when a lawsuit over a similar marker in Indiana was before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. The appeals court ruled last December that the monument’s presence at city hall was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Pending Elkhart, Indiana’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Milwaukee officials agreed to remove the marker if the appeals decision stood. The Foundation agreed not to bring a lawsuit in the interim.

In June, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, letting the 7th Circuit decision stand as prevailing law.

“We would have a slam dunk in court based on the 7th Circuit decision and Milwaukee’s representation,” said the Foundation’s attorney James Friedman.

The Foundation has also renewed previous requests to remove Ten Commandments from city parks in the Wisconsin towns of La Crosse and Monroe.

In the 1980s, the Foundation sued La Crosse over its Ten Commandments marker in Cameron Park, owned by the city, but lost the case on a technicality, not its merits. Lifelong resident and schoolteacher Phyllis Grams, a Foundation member, was the principal plaintiff. The Foundation’s college essay competition is named in honor of the late litigant, who remained feisty in the face of harassing phone calls during publicity about the lawsuit in the conservative city.

Foundation members are requested to inform the Foundation office of any Ten Commandments monuments on public property in the states of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, so that the Foundation may take action to have them removed.

“How nice to end this original violation–to remove the first set of bible edicts illegally placed on public property. We expect other such victories to follow,” commented Anne Gaylor, Foundation president.

Freedom From Religion Foundation