Thou shalt not press charges?
An evangelical advocacy group that found the large Ten Commandments statue on its front lawn toppled said Tuesday that it opposes criminal charges and instead wants to invite the perpetrator — if one is found — to a meal and a respectful back-and-forth about religion.
“As Christians, we believe we all fail to follow these rules in one way or another — deliberately or unintentionally in our hearts and minds. Which is why we are asking the perpetrator to come forward and confess their crime,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of Faith and Action, a ministry to Capitol Hill workers that sits in a rowhouse directly across Second Street NE from the back of the Supreme Court. “If they can do that, we’ll invite them to the scene of the crime and will listen as long as necessary to hear their motives. We want to know why they feel as strongly as they do. All we ask is they let us [have] a few minutes to tell them what we think. After that, all will be forgiven and forgotten.”
The 3-foot-by-3-foot, 850-pound granite statue has been in the news before. Faith and Action spent five years wrangling with D.C. officials to get the proper permits to put it up in a public, historic neighborhood. The group, which runs Bible studies and lectures, among other things, for Hill staffers, picked the spot so it would draw attention, including from Supreme Court justices pulling into work each day.
It was unveiled in 2006, and Schenck said Tuesday that the group has given at least 400 small sculptures of the commandments to “high public officials,” he said. “We ask them to display them and obey them.”
The group held a press conference Tuesday to display its public request that charges not be leveled against whoever knocked over the statue.
Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Araz Alali said officers were investigating possible property damage between Friday and Saturday. Faith and Action notified the police Saturday night after a neighbor called to say the statue was lying facedown on the front lawn.
Bill Miller, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, said the government “often considers the views of the victim” along with other factors when considering whether to prosecute.
Schenck said the statue was secured into three feet of concrete with a steel rod. A photo of the toppled statue shows the rod bent at a right angle. He said it took eight people working with a mechanical lift to install the sculpture, and questioned how it could have been harmed in an area that is closely patrolled by several law enforcement agencies.
“We believe this is a very serious crime. It’s not just against property; it’s against the religious identity of a people . . . it’s the equivalent of a hate crime,” Schenck said.