Five weeks after vandals toppled a monument of the Ten Commandments at a site facing the east facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, the tablet was rededicated Tuesday by an ecumenical group of Capitol Hill civic, political and religious leaders at the headquarters of the Faith and Action ministry.
Despite the widespread shock at last month's vandalism, the Rev. Robert Schenck, president and lead missionary for Faith and Action, said that the crime had in fact generated significant interest in the moral principles embodied in the Ten Commandments, and how those principles unify various faiths.
"The Ten Commandments are the most universal of all ethical basic codes. They are followed by Jews, Muslims and Christians," Mr. Schenck said, as he looked up at the image of Moses etched at the top of the Supreme Court building.
Faith and Action, founded in 1984, is an outreach ministry dedicated to challenging the consciences of policymakers in the heart of the nation's capital. Tuesday's event marks the second time the monument was dedicated. After a five-year series of legal battles, Faith and Action installed the 850-pound, 3-by-3-foot granite memorial in 2006 so the justices of the Supreme Court could see them when entering or leaving work.
"The commandments are the essential, universal foundational structure of civilization," said the Rev. Alexander Webster, an archpriest with the Orthodox Church of America. "They remain vital to human civilization. No civilization, including ours in the 21st century, can stand" without them.
Traffic around the row of townhouses often slowed to a stop, as rubberneckers eyed the small ceremony. A George Washington impersonator, dressed in 18th-century military costume, hoisted a large white flag emblazoned with a green arrow pointed upward and "Appeal to Heaven" written on the bottom.
Although the perpetrators of last month's crime have yet to be caught, Faith and Action officials said that security footage posted online has been viewed more than 17,000 times. In addition, photos of the vandals have been distributed at local meetings.
The group remains optimistic that the vandals will be caught. In exchange for turning themselves in and explaining their actions, Faith and Action has promised not to pursue legal action. Although they would require community service, Faith and Action officials also promised to buy the vandals a meal.
"Amazingly, they succeeded" in toppling the monument, Mr. Schenck said, "but not for long. There were responses from people all over the country and it was overwhelming."
"The great words of Sinai will be seen from Capitol Hill once again," Mr. Schenck added, noting that generous donations for the monument's restoration were given by several interfaith networks.
As dedicatory prayers concluded, the sunshine peeked from the rooftops and on to the faces of onlookers below.
"They can knock down the Ten Commandments, but we'll put them right back up again," said Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, said the rededication amounted to a rebuttal to attacks on religion. "An attack on a symbol of faith is an attack on the faith itself. This was a hate crime," Mr. Mahoney said. "It was incredible to see the response of the community, those who do and do not have faith traditions.
"The Ten Commandments doesn't divide us, it enjoins us. We are a better society because we don't lie, steal or murder. We need it, considering the recent divisions in D.C.," he added.
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