A little-noticed monument on the Faribault library grounds depicting the Ten Commandments won't be moved when construction on a plaza outside the historic building begins.
Library Director Delane James encouraged discussion on the monument and its future during a Library Board meeting earlier this month.
The statue was one of thousands put up in the 1950s, as an initiative by the Fraternal Order of Eagles to promote moral values. Its origins go back to Egbert Ruegener, a St. Cloud-based juvenile court judge and Eagles Club member.
In 1947, Ruegener presided over the trial of a 16 -year old boy who stole a car and ran over a priest, who later survived. Ruegener asked the boy if he realized he’d broken the Ten Commandments — and was stunned to learn that the boy had never even heard of them. Concerned about the decline of public morality in America, Ruegener was determined to take action. In 1951, the St. Cloud Eagles began distributing framed copies of the declaration and the program went nationwide in 1953.
The granite statues didn’t come along until several years later, and were linked to the legendary 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments," starring Charlton Heston. Director Cecil B. DeMille caught wind of the Eagles program and wanted to adapt the program to promote the film as well.
While the Eagles paid for the monuments, DeMille agreed to send some of the movie’s stars to cities where it was playing in order to dedicate the monuments. However, Historical Society Director Sue Garwood said there’s no indication any star came to Faribault.
Whether or not a religious display is proper for a public space has since become a matter of significant contention across the nation. However, the library has tried to avoid an inflamed controversy, with James directing Plaza architects to work around the display.
If the monument were ever to be moved, that action would require the support of the City Council. Mayor Kevin Voracek said that the topic has never come up during his time on the council, and he’d be inclined to leave the monument be.
Some Library Board members noted that neighboring Peace Park is also home to a religious statue as well. The library is incorporating the land currently occupied by Park Place, the road separating it from Peace Park, into an expanded parking lot.
Peace Park remains untouched under the plans, mainly because the site was home to a Native American burial ground. It has been identified by local artist Jeff Jarvis as one of three sites that could be home to a three panel interpretive sign honoring the legacy of local Dakota tribes.
The project is led by the Mendota Dakota Community, in partnership with Faribault’s Heritage Preservation Commission, Rice County Historical Society, Faribault Mural Society and the Santee Sioux Nation.
Jarvis is working to secure grants, with work on the monument expected to begin this year. He said that one benefit to using Peace Park for the marker, in addition to its historical significance, would be that the burial ground ensures that the triangle would remain undisturbed.