150 Boise icons: Ten Commandments monument

awebb@idahostatesman.comMay 22, 2013 

0522 local icon 10 command.JPG

Did you know? The monument was in the news again in 2009 when the U.S. Supreme court ruled that city governments can make the decision about what to display in public spaces — meaning it could have kept the Ten Commandments in, and kept other markers out if it chose. But Boise officials said the 2006 ballot initiative settled the matter and that the city would not revisit it.

ANNA WEBB — awebb@idahostatesman.com

It's fair to say this stone slab is among the most controversial objects in Boise.

Over a three-year period, its presence in a Boise park prompted questions about the separation of church and state, about religious freedom and the proper role of city government.

The Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the Ten Commandments monument to the city in 1965. City leaders installed it in Julia Davis Park between the band shell and the Boise River.

Long before the controversy, the monument had quite a story. A Minnesota Fraternal Order of Eagles official started a campaign in the 1950s to print and disseminate the Ten Commandments throughout Minnesota.

That was around the time Cecil B. DeMille was working on his "Ten Commandments" Hollywood epic. He contacted the Eagles and suggested expanding their Commandments program to coincide with the film. DeMille advocated for more permanent Commandments markers.

The Eagles agreed. Between the mid 1950s and late 1960s, the Eagles sponsored 167 stone monuments - including Boise's - across the country.

Boise's monument stood for nearly four decades, overlooked for the most part, in its shady corner of the park. But in 2003, some began to question whether the religious monument belonged in a public place.

This attracted the attention of an out-of-state religious group that wanted to put up its own themed memorial in Boise next to the monument. The group argued that if Boise had one religious monument on city land, it was only fair to allow others.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and the City Council hoped to circumvent the controversy. The council voted to remove the monument from the park and return it to the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

The vote inspired protests from people who wanted the monument to remain in the park. There were round-the-clock vigils and talks of recalling the mayor and council members.

In the end, courts OK'd the move out of the park. St. Michael's Episcopal Church had offered space for the monument on its front lawn. The monument stands there today in a prominent spot. It faces the Statehouse but is not on public land. A majority of Boiseans approved this solution in a 2006 ballot initiative.

518 N. 8th St. The monument sits on the north side of the church closest to the Capitol Building.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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