Ten Commandments Plaintiffs Speak Out (October 2002)

The Ten Commandments monument never should have been placed in Cameron Park. It was wrong to erect it there nearly 40 years ago–whatever the purported reason–and it’s wrong to leave it there now.

We can’t have freedom “of” religion–that is, the freedom to worship (or not) as our hearts and reason tell us–without freedom “from” religion. To make a free choice, we must be free from religious requirements.

Some of the complainants in the current court case consider themselves religious, and some don’t. Some have won awards for service to the community. Some have done graduate work in theology. All thought long and hard about the decision to sign on to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s lawsuit–not because they doubted their stand on moving the monument but because they feared repercussions from elements of the religious right not exactly known for rational thought.

Some people say the monument honors young people who banded together to fight the Mississippi River flood in the mid-1960s. But before you jump on that bandwagon, take a look at the monument: There’s no mention of the flood or the brave folks who helped save the city. What connection do the Ten Commandments have with fighting a flood? Why not a statue of a bucket-wielding teenager, a woman filling sandbags, a man hoisting them against the rising floodwaters?

Look at what the monument actually depicts: an eagle, the U.S. flag, two Stars of David, two stone tablets (seemingly the tablets that Charlton Heston carted down the mountain).

Then read the actual words that the city government is endorsing by keeping the monument in the park. Are you comfortable requiring La Crosse residents to believe only in religions that follow one god, who must be worshipped on a certain day? Do you believe, as the city essentially is saying, that Hindus, Buddhists, and others don’t belong in the Coulee region?

It’s a diverse world, folks, even in La Crosse, Wis. And no one religion holds all the answers for everyone.

Those of us who have joined the lawsuit to move the monument–and the hundreds of people who have contacted us to applaud our decision–are not antireligion. We want to protect freedom of religion by ensuring that church and state stay separate. Allowing the monument to remain in a city park erodes religion’s constitutional protections.

People who argue that the monument belongs in Cameron Park because this is somehow a “Christian” country are blinded by their own religious zeal. They don’t see that they’ve become what their religious forefathers tried to escape–proponents of an official state religion.

With the so-called “sale” of the park land to the Eagles, the city has admitted that the monument does not belong in the park. This “sale” is a sham, a ruse. If city officials believe this is a good idea, why didn’t they “sell” the park land before? Why was it offered only to the Eagles? Why is the city refusing to sell other parcels of the park to others for other monuments? The answer, of course, is because a bare majority of the City Council is desperately trying to keep the monument in a place where they know it has no legal business. This is the distorted outcome of a corrupted process.

What, then, to do? Many people are saying, “Why not move the monument to the Episcopal church on Main Street?” The church wants it, and the monument would be seen by far more people than in its current location. Main Street is a lot busier than King. Please remember: Those of us who want the monument moved aren’t against the Ten Commandments–we’re against maintaining that monument in a city park.

The Constitution, not the Ten Commandments, makes this country unique in the world. If you’re interested in what can happen in a country with an “official” state religion, consider Afghanistan under the Taliban, or Spain during the Inquisition. That’s what happens when government dares to dictate religious beliefs.

The U.S. Constitution promises that no despot can force a particular religion on the American people. Unlike many countries, the United States’ founders believed that people should make up their own minds and hearts about religious matters.

Freedom From Religion Foundation