Frederick has sold a small sliver of land containing a controversial Ten Commandments monument, ending a seven-month dispute over the constitutionality of the three-foot-tall granite marker.
The Frederick chapter of the International Order of Eagles paid $6,700 for the plot in Frederick's Memorial Park.
The sale of city-owned property to a private group satisfies complaints of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the city in August. The ACLU said the monument violated the First Amendment's prohibition of state-sponsored religion. They withdrew the lawsuit in early December after Frederick officials announced they planned to sell the monument, which lists all the commandments, to a private entity.
Dwight Sullivan, managing attorney for the Maryland chapter of the ACLU, said this week that his group is satisfied with the sale.
"They [Frederick officials] have done what they said they were going to do," he said.
R. Christopher Goodwin, a member of the International Order of Eagles Aerie No. 1067, said the group offered to buy the land "to put cold water on the fire" of the controversy surrounding the monument.
The sale "provides a kind of closure," Goodwin said. "It allows us, as a service organization, to do the right thing."
The group's purchase was in some ways fitting, Goodwin said, because the Eagles originally donated the Ten Commandments marker to the city in 1958.
The Eagles' agreement with the city, finalized Dec. 26, stipulates that the group will maintain the land.
Three others offered to buy the land, about 6,000 square feet: Herbert Shuck, a resident of Adamstown, Md.; Michael Peroutka, a Pasadena, Md., resident who, according to campaign finance reports, has donated thousands of dollars to predominantly conservative political candidates, including state Sen. Alexander X. Mooney (R-Frederick); and Fredericktown Bank & Trust, a local bank.
The city chose the Eagles because they are local, and seemed most able to maintain the site, city officials said.
The Veterans Committee for Memorial Grounds Park, a group that maintains several of the war memorials at the park, wrote a letter endorsing the Eagles.
"The Eagles seemed to represent to us the best commitment," group member Norman Covert said in an interview. "We really were convinced the local connection was the best connection."
The Eagles donated the monument, a granite marker that resembles a tombstone, as part of a nationwide promotional effort attached to the Charlton Heston film "The Ten Commandments."
Until the 1980s, the monument was in front of Frederick City Hall, then the Frederick County Courthouse. It was moved to Memorial Park, where it sat mostly unnoticed until the spring, when Blake Trettien, a senior at Urbana High School, spotted it and wrote a letter to the city questioning its constitutionality.
The ACLU later sued, and several groups and some city officials aligned against the ACLU, arguing the monument should stay.
The city then agreed to sell the property on Nov. 20. The Eagles offered to purchase the land shortly thereafter -- and actually had offered to buy the entire park shortly after the controversy erupted.
"We were concerned that everybody was starting to point fingers, that the camps were starting to arm," Goodwin said. "We felt we had a moral obligation to step up to the plate."