THE REAL HISTORY OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS PROJECT,
OF THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF EAGLES
by Sue A. Hoffman
The Ten Commandments monument at the Texas state capital:
The text reads: "The Ten Commandments. I AM THE LORD THY GOD"
The Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE) established its first Youth Guidance Commission in
1943. Although they accomplished many noteworthy projects throughout the next
few years, they wanted one program that would be acceptable throughout the
country that would promote a practical program of youth guidance. Starting in
1948, several conversations between prominent major religious groups, law
enforcement entities, family specialists, and marketing specialists took place.
After three years of discussions, the FOE employed the artists of Brown and
Bigelow to prepare a decorative 20x26 inch version of the Ten Commandments that
would be suitable for framing. It contained not only a universally acceptable
translation of the Ten Commandments, but it also displayed an American flag, an
eagle, two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the All-Seeing Eye of God
super-imposed on a triangle, the Star of David, and the Greek letters of Chi Rho
(Хρ; representing the first two letters of Christ). This framed version was to be
presented as a gift from individual aeries (local groups) to juvenile, district,
and municipal courts, as well as to churches, schools, and civic and fraternal
organizations. Recipients also included many government and religious officials,
business leaders, President Harry Truman, and Pope Pius XII, among other
dignitaries both nationally and internationally.
The State of Minnesota initiated this project in 1951 by distributing more than
7,000 smaller replicas of the framed Ten Commandments. The project went national
in December 1953, and by March 1954, 10,000 prints were made available for
national distribution. The following year, in 1955, another 18,000 copies were
printed and distributed. It is estimated that 4,000 of the larger, framed prints
were made and presented to individuals and organizations, both in the public and
private sector. In 1958, 250,000 copies of a 96-page book in comic format, "On
Eagle Wings," had been printed and were on their way for distribution to Boy
Scouts and other youth programs across the country. These books introduced a
juvenile offender to the Ten Commandments during a fishing trip that changed his
The beginnings of such an enormous project started with just one man, Judge E.
J. Ruegemer. In 1946, while serving as a juvenile and probate court judge in
Minnesota, a 16-year-old young man came before him charged with seriously
injuring a man that he struck while driving a stolen car. It was recommended
that the boy be sentenced to the State Training School, but the Judge ordered a
background check and discovered that the boy came from a broken home. This boy
also had hearing difficulties, poor vision, and was sitting in the back of his
classroom. The Judge decided to give him a suspended sentence with the
stipulation that he would stay in close contact with the officer that brought
him in, and to learn and keep the Ten Commandments.
The young man stated that he did not know anything about the Ten Commandments
and asked where he could find them. The Judge pointed to the large library of
law books and informed the boy that they were contained within those books. The
boy appeared shocked and asked how he could be expected to find them in all
those books. It was explained that the books contained thousands of laws, but he
needed to seek out only ten of them because all of the laws in the country
dealing with human relations were based upon those ten. Those ten laws alone
would be sufficient to guide him and to keep him out of trouble. The Judge then
made arrangements with a pastor of the boy’s mother’s faith to teach him the Ten
A few years after that incident, while he was Chairman of the Minnesota Youth
Guidance Committee, Judge E. J. Ruegemer initiated the Ten Commandments project.
He firmly believed in the Ten Commandments as the oldest code of conduct handed
down to man, and he "always believed the Ten Commandments were a guide to basic
moral conduct." The Judge passed away on 2005-JAN-12, 2005 at 102 years of age.
Debunking the DeMille Controversy:
Director Cecil B. DeMille was very impressed with what the Judge had
accomplished with the FOE's Youth Guidance Program in working with the prevention
of juvenile delinquency. In an article that DeMille wrote in 1955 while he was
in Israel filming The Ten Commandments, he contemplated what determines the
character of individuals and what the final purpose of life really is. DeMille
called Judge Ruegemer and asked about making bronze plaques of the Ten
Commandments that could be placed in courthouse squares, city halls, and public
parks so that the work that the Judge had started would become permanent
reminders to the youth of the day. The Judge mentioned that God did it in stone.
With Judge Ruegemer leading the way, the framed pictures were translated into
DeMille was honored in 1956 by the FOE for his valuable suggestions regarding
the monoliths, the article that he wrote for the FOE Eagle magazine, the gift of
a replica of one of the tablets of the Ten Commandments made from Mount Sinai
granite in which DeMille allowed a facsimile to be used in the larger versions,
and the continued support of allowing Paramount Pictures to have three of the
actors from The Ten Commandments to be present at a few of the unveilings of the
monoliths. In return, the FOE urged its members to support The Ten Commandments
movie as it was released in cities across the country. The timing of the
monoliths and the release of the movie provided a win-win situation that needed
no money to cross hands. Two men, the Judge and DeMille, envisioned a better
world for young people, and it was in that meeting of the minds that enhanced a
program that had already been in existence for several years.
In 1957, Mr. Weiss of Paramount Pictures authorized that in every city where The
Ten Commandments movie was shown, the theatres were asked to designate one night
as Eagles Night, to turn over to the local aeries all tickets that were sold by
the Eagle members for that night, and out of the proceeds, a percentage would be
set aside earmarked for the carrying out of the Ten Commandments’ program.
In the beginning...
A number of artists contributed to the design of the Ten Commandments monoliths.
Many attributes of the paper versions were used including the American flag, an
eagle, two tablets of the Ten Commandments at the top, the All-Seeing Eye of God
super-imposed on a triangle, two Stars of David, and the Greek letters of Chi
Rho. At the base was an engraved section that mentioned who, or what, the
monolith was dedicated to, by whom, and the year of dedication. Carnelian
granite, thought to be the closest type of granite to that found on Mount Sinai
in Israel, was used in the making of the original monoliths. The Mihelich
Monument Company of St. Cloud was the original manufacturer of the monoliths and
small granite plaques, but when minor changes were required, the Board of
Trustees found that Granit-Bronz, Inc., a subsidiary of Cold Spring Granite
Company of Cold Spring, gave a more competitive bid.
The monoliths were four, five, or six foot tall, not including the base, and
they could be manufactured out of red, brown, or gray granite. The five foot
monolith weighed 1600 lbs. and originally cost $200. The six foot monolith
weighed 2500 lbs. and originally cost $325. Although Granit-Bronz made most of
the monoliths, the individual aeries could have them made locally. It wasn’t
until after a few of the monoliths were placed that some criticism surfaced
because of the different versions of the Ten Commandments and their numbering.
Changes were made after the first series of distributions regarding the
numbering and the wording of the Ten Commandments based on the
Interdenominational Public School Format of 1958. Some aeries still chose to
keep the numbering system even after the change was offered. At this time, the
engraved smaller tablets at the top of the monolith that had Roman numerals
representing the Ten Commandments were changed to look like the tablets in The
Ten Commandments with Canaanite-like inscriptions.
The ACLU opposed mass distribution in the public arena as early as 1958, but
then agreed to the distribution because of the usage of several symbols along
with the Ten Commandments and because of the universal acceptance among
religious leaders of various faiths.
A few dedication facts:
In 1954, the Grand Aerie presented a four-foot monolith to the City of Chicago
during the FOE annual International Convention, although it was not placed at
that time. Martha Scott (who played Moses'’ mother), help dedicate the monolith in
Pittsburgh in 1956 during the annual FOE International Convention. Charlton Heston (Moses) was on hand, along with over 5,000 onlookers, to donate the
monolith at the International Peace Garden on the North Dakota-Canadian border
in 1956. His statement included: "The Ten Commandments have become the basis for
the whole code of human law . . . It is appropriate that on the border between
the two countries, the United States and Canada, the Ten Commandments have an
important place to show how men can live in peace." In 1957, Yul Brynner (Rameses
II) was invited to the dedication of a Ten Commandments monolith that was to be
used as a corner stone of the new addition to the city hall in Milwaukee during
Law Enforcement Week. Part of his speech stated, "Man has made 32,600,000 laws.
God made only ten, and yet there is no law among all these millions man has made
that isn’t covered with the Divine ones you can count on the fingers of your
hands." The first city to erect a monolith was Ambridge, PA, and the
first monolith erected on state capitol grounds was in Denver, CO. The
earliest placement occurred in 1955, and the last one took place in 1985 (with
the majority of the campaign going through the mid 1960’s).
A simpler story:
There may have been a few dedications with Hollywood stars and flurries of media
hype, but the majority of monoliths were placed in small communities with only
the local people taking center stage. There is documentation and verification of
145 monoliths located in 34 states plus one in Canada, with the possibility of a
few more. These 145 monoliths are in various stages of being on the properties
where they were originally placed, or moved because of lawsuits to private
property, or pending movement because of lawsuits, or taken down and stored
waiting to be placed, or lost, or destroyed.
There were various reasons why each community wanted a Ten Commandments
monolith, including honoring an event or person, or making a declaration of
historic significance regarding codes of law. Any time an aerie wanted to gift a
monolith to a town or government entity, they always asked two questions:
you WANT a monolith?
- If you want a monolith, where do you want the monolith
The receiving party, after getting appropriate permissions, would then
receive a monolith at no cost to them. The local aerie would then have a
fund-raising campaign doing activities like car washes, dances, bake sales, Ten
Commandments pin sales, requesting donations, etc.
The dedications, or unveilings, of these monoliths were big celebrations in the
towns. Some of the dedications took place on special holidays like Memorial Day,
Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Mothers’ Day, etc. There were always local
political dignitaries, FOE dignitaries, and representatives from each of the
major religions – Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. Youth organizations were
involved, and sometimes the military or Veterans’ groups. There may have
parades, picnics, speeches, etc. When these memorable dedication ceremonies
occurred, sometimes whole towns came out for the celebration. These monoliths,
at the time of the dedications, meant a great deal to the people who were
involved and their fellow citizens.
Most of the information regarding the original placements of the Ten
Commandments monoliths has been lost or destroyed. Most of the people who were
involved in the origination of this program have passed away.
Copyright © 2005 by Sue A. Hoffman
Originally posted: 2005-MAR-06
Latest update: 2005-MAR-06
Author: Sue A. Hoffman