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CULTURE DIGEST: Fargo wins fight to keep Ten Commandments on display outside city hall


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When the city commission in Fargo, N.D., voted to move a Ten Commandments monument from the lawn outside city hall, they quickly learned how much the biblical document means to their citizens.

The 6-foot-tall granite monument was donated to the city in 1958 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and it has been the most prominent feature of the lawn since 1961, according to USA Today.

Five years ago, a group of about 100 people called the Red River Freethinkers demanded that the commandments be removed because they thought it violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

When the freethinkers lost that fight, they devised a plan for a marker to be placed near the monument with a quote from a 1797 treaty signed by the United States and Tripoli, which said, “The United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

In June, the city commission rejected the “sister monument” idea and voted to move the commandments off city property to avoid further legal challenges, USA Today said. But opponents of the move collected 5,265 signatures, far surpassing the 2,850 needed to force commissioners either to keep the monument or let voters decide its fate.

“The commission got a real wake-up call on the sentiment of their citizens,” Scott Hennen, a daily talk show host in Fargo, told USA Today. “… People said, ‘Enough. Stop.'”


In July, one commissioner changed his vote and the commission decided to keep the Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of city hall.

“Common sense in the heartland prevailed,” Warren Ackley, a businessman who led the petition drive, said. “It’s a pretty innocent marker. The commandments are good rules to live by.”

Jon Lindgren, a Freethinker who fought to have the monument moved, said the latest decision by the commission reflected a “parochial and backward-looking” attitude that conflicts with the city’s otherwise sophisticated outlook, USA Today reported, and he voiced concern over supporters taking the monument too seriously.

“The Ten Commandments has become a graven image and people worship it,” Lindgren said. “To some extent, they’re less interested in what it says than what it is.”

A USA Today poll in 2005 found that 75 percent of Americans supported the display of Ten Commandments markers both on the grounds of the Texas capitol and on the walls of two Kentucky courthouses — two cases decided by the Supreme Court with differing outcomes that year.

VOLUNTEERING HIGHEST IN MIDDLE AMERICA — Those who feel connected to their communities, have more education, own their own homes and spend less time commuting are more likely to volunteer, according to a report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Released in early July, the report is based on Census Bureau statistics and found that volunteers contribute about 8.2 billion hours a year, which is worth about $152 billion.

Minneapolis topped the list of the 50 metropolitan areas with the highest percentage of residents who volunteered in 2006, and experts say that’s because 70 percent of families there own their own homes and the city has a history of civic engagement.

“Everyone is connected to an arts or non-profit cause that they care about, so they roll up their sleeves and get to work,” Jeremy Hanson, a spokesman for the mayor, told USA Today.

New York, Miami and Las Vegas ranked lowest on the list because residents spend a lot of time commuting or live in apartments, which tends to make people feel less connected to their communities and less inclined to volunteer their time.

Some cities ranked in the top 50 with large numbers of Southern Baptists include Louisville, Ky., at number 16; Nashville, Tenn., at 19; Dallas and Oklahoma City, tied at 20; and Atlanta, at 38.

Stephen Post, a bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, told USA Today that volunteering is good for people.

“There are clear psychological and health benefits,” he said. “When people are self-preoccupied, they’re also preoccupied with the problems of the self. When people volunteer in a community, there is a lifting of that anxiety, and they tend to be happier.”