It started as a protest, then evolved into a movement. A Fayette County-based group that raises money to purchase Ten Commandments monuments for local establishments will soon erect the first one in Washington County.
The North Ten Mile Baptist Church in Amity will be the newest recipient of a 6-foot-by-3-foot, 1,600-pound granite monument engraved with the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments. The church will hold a dedication ceremony and free speech rally during the unveiling of the monument at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Pastor Ewing Marietta, of Liberty Baptist Church in Uniontown, helped create the group Thou Shall Not Move to protest a federal lawsuit involving the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sued to remove a Ten Commandments monument at Connellsville Area School District last year.
Marietta, of South Connellsville, said hundreds of local residents rallied for the school’s right to keep the monument, which was donated by a local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s. The case is still pending, and the monument remains covered.
“I realized we needed to bring the whole community together,” Marietta said. “God’s word says you should not move the ancient landmarks. That’s how it got started.”
To date, the group has purchased 14 “Rock of Liberty” monuments from Davis Monuments Inc. in Scottdale, most recently for churches in Springfield Township, Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, and Mifflin County, as well as the South Connellsville Volunteer Fire Department.
Nearly $25,000 has been raised for Thou Shall Not Move’s monument fund, which covers whatever portion of the monument fee that churches are unable to pay. The group also sells Ten Commandments lawn signs – over 5,000 have been purchased – and $3 from each sign is deposited in the monument fund.
Marietta said the word has traveled quickly, and he has received calls from as far as Oregon and California from groups interested in a monument. He said the group has also shipped lawn signs to Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. “We hope to put one in every hometown in America,” he said.
The Rev. Gary Schneider, of the Amity church, said he contacted Marietta after learning about the movement from local residents who had lawn signs. Marietta spoke at their church and then offered to bring a monument to them.
“It’s a small country church, kind of off the beaten path,” Schneider said. “We’re hoping that the other pastors and church members see (the monument) and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to do that.”
Marietta said he does not want to limit the monument fund to churches. He hopes to include any business, community center or establishment that expresses interest. And while some question the legality of religious symbols being present in public schools, especially in light of the Connellsville court case, Marietta said he would be happy to see a Ten Commandments monument erected at a school.
“Would we like to place one at a public school right now? Absolutely, we would do that for free,” Marietta said. “If there’s a school district out there that says, ‘We want one,’ then by golly we’ll bring it. I’ll even pay for the foundation. I’ll dig the hole myself.”
Marietta also hopes to expand the movement to Greene County. Recipients of the fund have hosted dedication ceremonies to unveil the monuments to the community. The Amity church event will include a free meal, musical performances, carnival-style vendors and entertainment for children.
Church member Randy Denman Jr., 29, of Bentleyville, said he thinks the movement is a “great expression of our freedom of speech,” which he believes has the power to change his generation.
“The reason I got behind this is I think the more we have the Ten Commandments, the more people are aware that they have freedom of speech to do this kind of thing, and the better off our country will be,” Denman said. “I can’t wait to see everybody come out here and see if our little church can make a difference.”