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Minnesota monuments bring mixed reaction

Ten Commandments monuments are thinly scattered throughout Minnesota's public places, but none has generated the controversy recently seen in Alabama.

Ten Commandments monuments are thinly scattered throughout Minnesota's public places, but none has generated the controversy recently seen in Alabama.

Not that the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union hasn't tried.

A few examples: There's a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of Faribault's Public Library, another one at the Crow Wing County courthouse in Brainerd and a third at the city-owned Duluth Civic Center. There's even one on the lawn of the Clay County courthouse in Moorhead.

In Alabama, a federal judge ruled last year a Ten Commandments monument placed at the courthouse by the state's chief Supreme Court justice violated the Constitution's ban against government promotion of a religious doctrine. Controversy ensued.

In the Fargo-Moorhead area, public reaction to such monuments has been mixed.

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Five people belonging to the area Freethinkers group are suing the city of Fargo, whose commissioners voted 4-1 July 8, 2002, not to remove Fargo's Ten Commandments statue from the City Hall mall area.

That decision was preceded by a year of public debates and rallies over the issue, which began July 30, 2001, when the Freethinkers asked the city to consider removing it.

The case has not reached the courtroom.

Outside the Clay County Courthouse, a granite monument has stood for many years without attracting controversy.

"The issue really has not surfaced yet as far as the monument in Clay County is concerned," said County Coordinator Vijay Sethi.

An organization has let the county know it would provide the monument with a home if it ever has to be moved, Sethi said, declining to identify the group.

"We really have not pursued the issue," he said. "If there is any feedback from anybody, I would bring it to the county board's attention."

The monuments were a gift to Clay County and the city of Fargo from the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in Fargo, according to inscriptions on the stones.

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There is no date marked on the Clay County monument and Sethi said he did not know when the stone was donated. Fargo's was placed in 1958.

Throughout Minnesota, several of the monuments are the work of retired judge E.J. Ruegemer, who worked to post copies of the Ten Commandments in juvenile courtrooms nationwide in the 1950s. He got support for the marker from the producer of the "Ten Commandments" movie, Cecil B. DeMille. Ruegemer worked through the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Milo Schnepf joined the Eagles in Faribault in 1959, two years after the commandments went up at the library. He was later president of the Faribault aerie and the statewide organization.

"The Ten Commandments are sort of a universal thing," Schnepf said Thursday. "I mean, everybody believes in the Ten Commandments. If they don't, they should."

Schnepf was hesitant to talk about the Faribault monument, for fear of drawing attention to it.

"Some kook will probably decide that they're against the law or something, and make them take 'em down," Schnepf said.

"Kook" might be in the eye of the beholder. But Chuck Samuelson wants them taken down.

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