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About the Ten Commandments

The real history of the Ten Commandments
project of the Fraternal Order of Eagles

by Sue A. Hoffman

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Photographs of the Ten Commandments monument at the Texas state capital:

The text reads: "The Ten Commandments. I AM THE LORD THY GOD"

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The Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE) established its first Youth Guidance Commission in 1943. Although they accomplished many noteworthy projects throughout the next few years, they wanted one program that would be acceptable throughout the country that would promote a practical program of youth guidance. Starting in 1948, several conversations between prominent major religious groups, law enforcement entities, family specialists, and marketing specialists took place. After three years of discussions, the FOE employed the artists of Brown and Bigelow to prepare a decorative 20x26 inch version of the Ten Commandments that would be suitable for framing. It contained not only a universally acceptable translation of the Ten Commandments, but it also displayed an American flag, an eagle, two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the All-Seeing Eye of God super-imposed on a triangle, the Star of David, and the Greek letters of Chi Rho (Х ρ) representing the first two letters of "Christ"). This framed version was to be presented as a gift from individual aeries (local groups) to juvenile, district, and municipal courts, as well as to churches, schools, and civic and fraternal organizations. Recipients also included many government and religious officials, business leaders, President Harry Truman, and Pope Pius XII, among other dignitaries both nationally and internationally.

The State of Minnesota initiated this project in 1951 by distributing more than 7,000 smaller replicas of the framed Ten Commandments. The project went national in December 1953, and by March 1954, 10,000 prints were made available for national distribution. The following year, in 1955, another 18,000 copies were printed and distributed. It is estimated that 4,000 of the larger, framed prints were made and presented to individuals and organizations, both in the public and private sector. In 1958, 250,000 copies of a 96-page book in comic format, "On Eagle Wings," had been printed and were on their way for distribution to Boy Scouts and other youth programs across the country. These books introduced a juvenile offender to the Ten Commandments during a fishing trip that changed his life.

The beginnings of such an enormous project started with just one man, Judge E. J. Ruegemer. In 1946, while serving as a juvenile and probate court judge in Minnesota, a 16-year-old young man came before him charged with seriously injuring a man that he struck while driving a stolen car. It was recommended that the boy be sentenced to the State Training School, but the Judge ordered a background check and discovered that the boy came from a broken home. This boy also had hearing difficulties, poor vision, and was sitting in the back of his classroom. The Judge decided to give him a suspended sentence with the stipulation that he would stay in close contact with the officer that brought him in, and to learn and keep the Ten Commandments.

The young man stated that he did not know anything about the Ten Commandments and asked where he could find them. The Judge pointed to the large library of law books and informed the boy that they were contained within those books. The boy appeared shocked and asked how he could be expected to find them in all those books. It was explained that the books contained thousands of laws, but he needed to seek out only ten of them because all of the laws in the country dealing with human relations were based upon those ten. Those ten laws alone would be sufficient to guide him and to keep him out of trouble. The Judge then made arrangements with a pastor of the boy’s mother’s faith to teach him the Ten Commandments.

A few years after that incident, while he was Chairman of the Minnesota Youth Guidance Committee, Judge E. J. Ruegemer initiated the Ten Commandments project. He firmly believed in the Ten Commandments as the oldest code of conduct handed down to man, and he "always believed the Ten Commandments were a guide to basic moral conduct." The Judge passed away on 2005-JAN-12, 2005 at 102 years of age.

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Director Cecil B. DeMille was very impressed with what the Judge had accomplished with the FOE's Youth Guidance Program in working with the prevention of juvenile delinquency. In an article that DeMille wrote in 1955 while he was in Israel filming The Ten Commandments, he contemplated what determines the character of individuals and what the final purpose of life really is. DeMille called Judge Ruegemer and asked about making bronze plaques of the Ten Commandments that could be placed in courthouse squares, city halls, and public parks so that the work that the Judge had started would become permanent reminders to the youth of the day. The Judge mentioned that God did it in stone. With Judge Ruegemer leading the way, the framed pictures were translated into granite monoliths.

DeMille was honored in 1956 by the FOE for his valuable suggestions regarding the monoliths, the article that he wrote for the FOE Eagle magazine, the gift of a replica of one of the tablets of the Ten Commandments made from Mount Sinai granite in which DeMille allowed a facsimile to be used in the larger versions, and the continued support of allowing Paramount Pictures to have three of the actors from The Ten Commandments to be present at a few of the unveilings of the monoliths. In return, the FOE urged its members to support The Ten Commandments movie as it was released in cities across the country. The timing of the monoliths and the release of the movie provided a win-win situation that needed no money to cross hands. Two men, the Judge and DeMille, envisioned a better world for young people, and it was in that meeting of the minds that enhanced a program that had already been in existence for several years.

In 1957, Mr. Weiss of Paramount Pictures authorized that in every city where The Ten Commandments movie was shown, the theatres were asked to designate one night as Eagles Night, to turn over to the local aeries all tickets that were sold by the Eagle members for that night, and out of the proceeds, a percentage would be set aside earmarked for the carrying out of the Ten Commandments’ program.

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In the beginning...

A number of artists contributed to the design of the Ten Commandments monoliths. Many attributes of the paper versions were used including the American flag, an eagle, two tablets of the Ten Commandments at the top, the All-Seeing Eye of God super-imposed on a triangle, two Stars of David, and the Greek letters of Chi Rho. At the base was an engraved section that mentioned who, or what, the monolith was dedicated to, by whom, and the year of dedication. Carnelian granite, thought to be the closest type of granite to that found on Mount Sinai in Israel, was used in the making of the original monoliths. The Mihelich Monument Company of St. Cloud was the original manufacturer of the monoliths and small granite plaques, but when minor changes were required, the Board of Trustees found that Granit-Bronz, Inc., a subsidiary of Cold Spring Granite Company of Cold Spring, gave a more competitive bid.

The monoliths were four, five, or six foot tall, not including the base, and they could be manufactured out of red, brown, or gray granite. The five foot monolith weighed 1600 lbs. and originally cost $200. The six foot monolith weighed 2500 lbs. and originally cost $325. Although Granit-Bronz made most of the monoliths, the individual aeries could have them made locally. It wasn’t until after a few of the monoliths were placed that some criticism surfaced because of the different versions of the Ten Commandments and their numbering. Changes were made after the first series of distributions regarding the numbering and the wording of the Ten Commandments based on the Interdenominational Public School Format of 1958. Some aeries still chose to keep the numbering system even after the change was offered. At this time, the engraved smaller tablets at the top of the monolith that had Roman numerals representing the Ten Commandments were changed to look like the tablets in The Ten Commandments with Canaanite-like inscriptions.

The ACLU opposed mass distribution in the public arena as early as 1958, but then agreed to the distribution because of the usage of several symbols along with the Ten Commandments and because of the universal acceptance among religious leaders of various faiths.

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A few dedication facts:

In 1954, the Grand Aerie presented a four-foot monolith to the City of Chicago during the FOE annual International Convention, although it was not placed at that time. Martha Scott (who played Moses'’ mother), help dedicate the monolith in Pittsburgh in 1956 during the annual FOE International Convention. Charlton Heston (Moses) was on hand, along with over 5,000 onlookers, to donate the monolith at the International Peace Garden on the North Dakota-Canadian border in 1956. His statement included: "The Ten Commandments have become the basis for the whole code of human law . . . It is appropriate that on the border between the two countries, the United States and Canada, the Ten Commandments have an important place to show how men can live in peace." In 1957, Yul Brynner (Rameses II) was invited to the dedication of a Ten Commandments monolith that was to be used as a corner stone of the new addition to the city hall in Milwaukee during Law Enforcement Week. Part of his speech stated, "Man has made 32,600,000 laws. God made only ten, and yet there is no law among all these millions man has made that isn’t covered with the Divine ones you can count on the fingers of your hands." The first city to erect a monolith was Ambridge, PA, and the first monolith erected on state capitol grounds was in Denver, CO. The earliest placement occurred in 1955, and the last one took place in 1985 (with the majority of the campaign going through the mid 1960’s).

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A simpler story:

There may have been a few dedications with Hollywood stars and flurries of media hype, but the majority of monoliths were placed in small communities with only the local people taking center stage. There is documentation and verification of 145 monoliths located in 34 states plus one in Canada, with the possibility of a few more. These 145 monoliths are in various stages of being on the properties where they were originally placed, or moved because of lawsuits to private property, or pending movement because of lawsuits, or taken down and stored waiting to be placed, or lost, or destroyed.

There were various reasons why each community wanted a Ten Commandments monolith, including honoring an event or person, or making a declaration of historic significance regarding codes of law. Any time an aerie wanted to gift a monolith to a town or government entity, they always asked two questions:

  1. Do you WANT a monolith?
  2.  If you want a monolith, where do you want the monolith placed?

The receiving party, after getting appropriate permissions, would then receive a monolith at no cost to them. The local aerie would then have a fund-raising campaign doing activities like car washes, dances, bake sales, Ten Commandments pin sales, requesting donations, etc.

The dedications, or unveilings, of these monoliths were big celebrations in the towns. Some of the dedications took place on special holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Mothers’ Day, etc. There were always local political dignitaries, FOE dignitaries, and representatives from each of the major religions – Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. Youth organizations were involved, and sometimes the military or Veterans’ groups. There may have parades, picnics, speeches, etc. When these memorable dedication ceremonies occurred, sometimes whole towns came out for the celebration. These monoliths, at the time of the dedications, meant a great deal to the people who were involved and their fellow citizens.

Most of the information regarding the original placements of the Ten Commandments monoliths has been lost or destroyed. Most of the people who were involved in the origination of this program have passed away.

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Sue Hoffman's book:

Book cover image Sue A Hoffman, "In Search of God and the Ten Commandments: One Person's Journey to Preserve a Small Part of America's God-given Values and Freedoms" (2014). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store customers rated the book with 4.8 stars out of 5. Amazon sells it in paperback format for US$ 44.96. Less expensive copies can often be obtained used.

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Site navigation: Home page > Religious LawsTen Commandments > here

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Copyright 2005 by Sue A. Hoffman
Originally posted: 2005-MAR-06
Latest update: 2015-JUL-22
Author: Sue A. Hoffman

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