Everyone wants a piece of the rock. So much so, that they nearly come to blows over it.
The Canadian "abortion survivor" circling on roller blades wants to snap it with his digital camera. The Bible-clutching Native Americans from Oregon want to chant Scripture over it. The Christian flagmaker wants to drop to her knees, weep, rub her fingers over its inscriptions. Even the atheists want a piece of "Roy's Rock."
For two years, the gray granite Ten Commandments monument stood in an Alabama courthouse, a 21/2 -ton slab inscribed with biblical verse and words from the Founding Fathers. But since a federal court ordered it removed last year, and former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore was fired for his refusal, it has crossed a sacred, mythical threshold that has ignited the faithful.
"It's more than just a bunch of rock now," says Dan Karasik, a 27-year-old messianic Jew from Philadelphia, as yesterday's America for Jesus Rally was projected onto big-screen televisions behind him. "It represents what is happening in the country. They are trying to remove God from the foundation of this country."
"It's a piece of history now," says 20-year-old John Russell, flanked by his young wife, Jennifer. "It's good [that it is here] because they are not allowing it to be forgotten."
In late July, Moore gave the Ten Commandments monument to the Houston-based American Veterans Standing for God and Country, part of the American Veterans in Domestic Defense, who have taken his rock -- perched atop a flatbed truck -- on a road trip to churches, revivals, schools and festivals. It came to the Mall for an event organized by Bishop John Gimenez, pastor of the Rock Church in Virginia Beach. Hundreds came to the Mall for the rally.
Folks steadily stream past the monument because they want to study it up close, unclouded by the lenses of TV cameras and unsullied by the snickers of "liberal-media" types. They want to touch it, feel it, take in the cool breeze sailing past it, step over the golden fall leaves dropping around it, snap pictures of loved ones smiling beside it.
Shelly Eley and her friend Peggy Zuckero, up from Petersburg, Va., stand on the truck and caress the lectern-size granite for the second time. The first time, they say, they both wept. This time, their eyes are dry as they step down. "I was just so overcome," Eley says.
"John Kerry!" a cyclist screams out.
"Dubya!" Eley screams at the man's back.
On a small portable CD player, country singer Darren Pearson is singing a Ten Commandments song commissioned for the tour. Nearby, a lonely white sign is painted with red letters reading "Elect Jesus Christ Head of Your Life: Paid for by His Precious Blood." Behind a row of portable potties, two young boys wrestle in the grass. A woman hoists a massive wooden cross spray-painted "Jesus Died 4 U."
Marshall Tall Eagle, a 67-year-old member of the Apache tribe is wearing head-to-foot regalia covered in colorful ribbons. He is a devoted Christian who came to pray. Tall Eagle spots a man approaching holding a sign reading "God Is Just Pretend," and wearing a gray baseball cap proclaiming himself "UNSAVED."
"What does that hat say?" Tall Eagle demands of Ron Hertzel. Hertzel is a 62-year-old retiree from Altoona, Pa., who came to see the monument along with about a dozen other atheists and humanists to protest The Rock.
Terse words are exchanged. A crowd begins to form. U.S. Park Police begin to drift over. A handful of similar arguments are breaking out between believers and nonbelievers in front of Roy's Rock.
"You are a product of my religion!"
"No, I'm a product of reason!"
"It started 'Under God' "
"It's a personal matter!"
"Thomas Jefferson said . . . "
"That's my hero!"
Minutes later, Tall Eagle and Hertzel are still going at it. Hertzel tosses his "UNSAVED" hat at Tall Eagle, who grabs it and throws it across the grass. The atheists and Christians retreat back to their respective corners.
"Don't shake hands with any of these people, or they'll try to pray for you," says Ron Stauffer, another atheist from Altoona, brushing off his hands and scowling as if he just stepped in something.
Hertzel, who is still without his "UNSAVED" hat, asks, "Where were you when I needed you?"
Marcia Eldreth steps down from the flatbed truck. She's wearing a brown suede cowboy hat and matching vest. In the spring of 2003, she got a vision from God: an eagle carrying a banner in his beak with the words "Take heed that no man deceive you." She drew up the vision on a large white flag that she called "the United States National Christian Flag." "It's the battle and victory flag to reclaim this land for Christ," says Eldreth, a former laborer from Cecil County, Md. "He will be back soon, just as sure as Christ came the first time. "
On the truck, her U.S. National Christian Flag waves in the brisk air. About a dozen believers are on top of the truck. There are a handful of Native American Christians. Another dozen are part of Line of Judah, a team of musicians sounding deep calls on the horns of African antelopes. Several also wear prayer shawls inscribed with Hebrew. They read a few Scriptures. Then the horns ring out their version of the watchman's warning, calling on the world to repent.