Foundation Protests Ten Commandments Display at Massachusetts Public Library

Abuse Dates Back More than 100 Years

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the Cambridge Public Library to remove an eye-poppingly ostentatious Ten Commandments engraving and other religious verbiage on prominent display in the first floor of the main library.

“A public library simply has no business saying it was ‘built in gratitude to his son Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Ghost,’ or to warn patrons, including children, that ‘if you obey these commandments you will be happy. If you disobey them sorrow will come upon you,’ ” the Foundation wrote Cambridge Public Library Director Susan Flannery.

The city of Cambridge agreed in 1889 to post the Ten Commandments and additional religious proclamations (see below) in exchange for obtaining the building from a religious benefactor. Although it also posts a “disclaimer” explaining that it considers the engravings to be “historic,” the Foundation said it “does not mitigate the effect of these religious orders, threats, and injunctions.”

The Foundation noted that now is “an ideal time” to rectify this violation since the Main Library will soon be renovated.

“What civil power could the Cambridge Public Library invoke, which would supersede the dictates of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?” wrote Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Foundation.

“Mere financial gain or advantage cannot justify a union between religion and a public library.”

As libraries are continually visited by children and students, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in Stone v. Graham, forbidding the display of Ten Commandments in public classrooms, should be considered precedent. The high court ruled that the Commandments are “plainly religious in nature,” and that the mere posting of the bible edicts are sufficiently coercive to violate student rights.

The Cambridge library is not only offending the 14% of the population that is nonreligious, the Foundation pointed out, but is offending Catholic patrons by posting a Protestant version of the Ten Commandments, and Jewish and Muslim patrons by the additional references to “Paul the Apostle.”

“Government has no business telling citizens which god they must have, how many gods they must have, or that they must have any god at all!” Gaylor added in her letter of complaint.

The national watchdog group suggested auctioning off the engravings for the benefit of the library system.

To voice your concern to the Cambridge Public Library over this state/church violation, see the Action Alert at

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and others) working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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