The iconic monument of the Ten Commandments in front of our Faith and Action ministry center was attacked by vandals this past weekend and toppled to the ground on its face. The 850-pound granite sculpture had stood for a dozen years as a silent witness to biblical truth. The angle at which the tablets sat in the front garden of the Honorable William J. Ostrowski House ensured that the justices of the United States Supreme Court would see them every day when they arrived and left their building, which is just across the street. Members of Congress, many of whom travel in front of the ministry center on their way to and from their offices at each end of the street, will often mention to our staff that they’ve seen the etched version of the Great Words of Sinai. On at least two occasions, presidential motorcades have slowed down to get a look at the Decalogue.
That view of God’s Eternal Word is no longer available. On Saturday night, September 21, Faith and Action chief of program Peggy Nienaber received a call alerting her to what appeared to be vandalism at the front part of our property. When Peggy arrived at our location, she saw that the Ten Commandments monument had been toppled forward, its face bearing the incomparable “Ten Words” pointed to the ground. The steel rod that secured the monolith to a three-foot deep cement foundation had been bent to a nearly 90′ angle.
“It took a lot of force to wrench that hardened steel,” Peggy said. “Whoever did this was avery serious and very focused on making sure the Ten Commandments could no longer be seen or read. It was obviously intentional. This was no random act. It was well planned and well done.”
Peggy also noted that someone had stuck a stolen “For Rent” sign in the garden in front of the damaged monument. Nothing else was disturbed, and a later inspections of the building indicated that no one had attempted to enter.
Since the time Rev. Rob Schenck first applied for a permit to install the monument at our location, it has been controversial. Back in 2001, shortly after Faith and Action was awarded the sculpture for being the top bidder in a fundraiser for Adams County for the Ten Commandments Committee, a group working to preserve similar stone displays in front of schools in their area, the oversized garden ornament has been the focus of numerous challenges. The original permit application was denied several times, with various federal agencies bouncing it to others in a game of bureaucratic hot potato. Eventually some 11 commissions did sign off on the proposed plans, but work came to stop after the Area Neighborhood Commission (ANC) objected due to the religious nature of monument’s message.
“We were told that the permit would not be approved because there were federal employees across the street at the Supreme Court and in the U.S. Capitol that might be offended by the Ten Commandments,” said Rev. Rob Schenck. “When I explained that there was a full-sized model of nude woman in a garden near ours, I was told people aren’t offended by nude statues, but they are offended by the Ten Commandments.”
At a final meeting of the ANC, commissioners voted to approve a highly contested liquor license for a local restaurant, but voted down permission for Faith and Action to erect the Ten Commandments monument.
“After the refusal by the commissioners, the monument sat in our walled prayer garden at the rear of our building, invisible to the public, and languished there for five years,” said Rev. Schenck. “We weren’t sure it would ever see the light of day. Then, in 2006, word reached us that a very highly placed official in Washington had said the coast was clear for a lawsuit that would favor Faith and Action if the sculpture was put in the ground. “
“When we heard that,” Rev. Schenck went on to explain, “it gave us courage to move ahead. We installed the monument over a federal holiday and had a dedication ceremony shortly after. Unveiling those tablets, man, you would have thought we had detonated a nuclear bomb. All kinds of groups came after us, and the DC government hand-delivered a letter threatening us with $300 per day fines for violation of the permit laws. We stood our ground under the First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion. In less than a month the government backed down and rescinded their notice of violation, quote, ‘in view of the First Amendment interests reflected in the installation of the Ten Commandments sculpture.’ End quote. It was a sweet victory.”
Rev. Schenck said Faith and Action has already launched a fund drive to repair and re-install the monument. A re-dedication ceremony will be held as soon as the process is complete.