- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Most residents and visitors on Capitol Hill yesterday said they do not object to the display of the Ten Commandments outside a house just steps from the Supreme Court building, despite the District’s ruling that a permit is needed.

“I’m an atheist, and I don’t agree with their message, but as long as it’s on private property, they can do what they want,” said resident Justin Cohen, 21. “As long as it’s not going to be endorsed by the government, it’s OK.”

Faith and Action, an evangelical group run by Christian activist Rob Schenck, displayed the 850-pound stone monument Saturday in the front yard of a home in the 100 block of Second Street Northeast.

“I think they should be allowed to do it,” said J. Ash, 36, who lives around the corner from the monument. “I don’t agree with it, but it’s a free-speech thing.”

City officials say the group needs the permit because yards in Capitol Hill and other historic districts are considered public land, according to law dating back several hundred years.

The District Department of Transportation hand-delivered a letter to the group last week explaining the need for a permit. The letter stated the group has 30 days to begin the permit process.

Failure to acquire the permit or remove the monument within that time could result in a fine of $300 a day, the letter also stated.

Lars Etzkorn, the transportation department’s associate director, did not return phone calls by late yesterday afternoon.

According to Faith and Action’s Web site, the group applied for a display permit in 2001 with the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. However, the permit was never granted, the group said.

D.C. officials said the permit must be issued by the transportation department, which oversees public displays in the city.

Faith and Action officials have said they will not reapply for the permit. Group officials did not return calls yesterday, and nobody answered the door of the home so it is not clear whether they are prepared to pay the fine.

In 2002, Mr. Schenck hung a banner on the home, known as the Honorable William J. Ostrowski House, with the Commandment: You Shall not Murder.

Mr. Schenck said then he hoped the banner would “cause people to think about the author of those words, and that it is God to whom, ultimately, we are accountable.”

He also said that the United States has embraced the Judeo-Christian faith and that “we should not be ashamed to say that.”

Mr. Schenck said that courts have been misinformed about the nature of the Commandments and that judges have approached them as advocating sectarian religion when they are really unifying in nature.

“It brings together the three great monotheistic faiths” of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, he said.

The monument sits among plants in the home’s front yard. Above the door a large, yellow banner states “Christ died and rose again that we might save the living and the dead, Romans 14:9.”

Sam Webb, 21, who lives in Crystal City and works on the Hill, said the monument is not garish that the group should not be allowed to keep it.

“I don’t think it’s big enough or outlandish enough to be a problem,” he said.

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