TEN COMMANDMENTS CONTROVERSY
City Drops Objections To Religious Sculpture
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
More than three weeks after District officials warned an evangelical Christian group about displaying a sculpture of the Ten Commandments on property across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court, they said yesterday that the 850-pound granite monument doesn't need a permit after all.
Officials with the D.C. Department of Transportation had said in a June 2 letter that Faith and Action lacked permission to erect the waist-high sculpture, which sits on the front lawn of the Capitol Hill rowhouse that holds the group's national offices. The officials threatened the group with $300-a-day fines, saying it needed permits from both the Transportation Department and the city's office of historic preservation because the rowhouse is in a part of the city deemed "public" and in a historic district.
Faith and Action's president, the Rev. Robert Schenck, organized an unveiling of the sculpture June 3. He contended that his group, which promotes public displays of the Ten Commandments, did not need a permit and that it was being singled out because of the display's religious nature.
Yesterday, Lars Etzkorn, associate director of the office of public space management administration at the Transportation Department, sent a letter to the group rescinding the earlier warning.
The letter stated that, "In view of the First Amendment interests reflected in the installation of the Ten Commandments sculpture . . . and upon further consideration of applicable law," the city now believes that no permits are required.
The First Amendment forbids Congress to make any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion or abridging freedom of speech.
Schenck said last night that because members of his group had yet to receive the city's letter, they would continue to prepare to defend themselves in court and possibly take legal action over what he called "harassment and intimidation" by the city.
"We have paid money, used valuable time and effort," he said. "We see this as extremely consequential for every resident of the District."