WASHINGTON — A stone monument of the Ten Commandments that sits on a street behind the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington and was the subject of controversy in the past has been toppled by vandals.
The 3-foot-by-3-foot granite monument weighs 850 pounds and sits out front of the headquarters of Faith and Action, a Christian outreach ministry. The group installed the tablets in a garden outside its offices in 2006, and the group’s president said the tablets were angled so that justices arriving at the high court would see them.
The Rev. Robert Schenck, who heads the organization, said the damage to the monument happened sometime between Friday night and Saturday night. A minister who works in the area alerted the group to the damage about 9 p.m. Saturday.
The monument had been pushed over so that the words of the Ten Commandments are now face down. Vandals bent a steel rod that secures the monument to a thick concrete base to an almost 90 degree angle. The monument itself is not damaged, Schenck said.
“Whoever did this was determined to get it done, because it’s not something you could easily do,” Schenck said, adding that the vandals also installed a “For Rent” yard sign by the monument and that the vandalism was reported to police.
Officer Anthony Clay, a Metropolitan Police Department spokesman, said Monday that the case remains open.
Schenck said he did not know how much it would cost to bring the tablets upright, but the organization plans to reinforce the monument and install a security camera that monitors the area. He said they also plan to ask a neighboring organization and the U.S. Supreme Court for their security footage during the time when the monument was vandalized.
Schenck said that he wasn’t angry about the damage and that, in a way, the vandals had helped the organization convey important messages: “We all violate the Ten Commandments” and “We all violate God’s rules.”
The group bought the stone tablets at a charity auction in 2001. They were one of four removed by a federal court order from the fronts of public schools in Adams County, Ohio.
Courts nationwide have wrestled with public displays of the Ten Commandments. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on two such cases: In one, the justices upheld a monument on the grounds of the Texas capitol in Austin. In the other, they declared unconstitutional Ten Commandments displays at Kentucky courthouses.
In Washington, meanwhile, Faith and Action had difficulty getting permission to put the monument in an elevated garden outside the townhome where it has had its offices since 1999. Schenck said he initially applied for a permit to display the monument in 2001 but was bounced between agencies before the local neighborhood commission voted against giving their permission. As a result, the monument sat in the organization’s backyard for five years.
Then, preparing for a fight in 2006, the organization installed the monument in the front yard, a job that took an eight-man crew, a hydraulic lift and a truck. Once the monument was installed, the group was threatened with a $300-a day-fine for not getting a permit. That ultimately was withdrawn, Schenck said, and there’s been no vandalism or even angry letters since.
“We thought the controversy surrounding it had long since subsided, but apparently not,” Schenck said.