- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2013

A stone monument of the Ten Commandments that sits across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court was toppled by vandals over the weekend.

The 3-by-3-foot monument, which weighs 850 pounds, sits in front of the headquarters of the evangelical Christian group Faith and Action.

“We’re confounded, absolutely mystified, how a collection of people could get away with this kind of damage,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, who leads the Christian group. “The Ten Commandments is something that unites people. It’s disappointing to say the least. Heartbreaking — that’s the word I used with my staff.”

Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Officer Anthony Clay said the vandalism occurred sometime Saturday and police had no suspects as of Monday.

The organization’s headquarters, at 109 Second St. NE, is on a block protected by U.S. Capitol Police, D.C. police, and a guard house near the Supreme Court building that is staffed 24 hours a day.

The fallen monument was discovered Saturday when a neighboring minister walked past the site and noticed the granite slab lying face down in the front yard. He reported the damage to one of the organization’s staff members.

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Peggy Nienaber, the chief of program with Faith and Action, said a “For Rent” sign was placed facing the toppled sculpture, and an in-ground light that normally illuminates the monument at night was torn out.

Mr. Schenck said he spoke with the monument’s engineer, who said it would have taken leverage and a “herculean amount of strength” to wrench the stone off its base and bend a steel reinforcing rod so the monument could fall forward.

“We made sure it exceeded code requirements,” Mr. Schenck said of the monument’s construction. “It’s a very heavy piece of stone and we didn’t want anyone injured by it. We’ve done everything possible to make sure it’s very secure.”

In fact, when the monument was first erected in 2006, Mr. Schenck said it took an eight-man crew, a truck, and heavy lifting equipment to position the stone.

A contractor has been called in to estimate the cost of repairing and restoring the stone, Mr. Schenck said.

“Now we know it can be bent over, we have to figure out a way to strengthen its structure,” he said. “We’re also concerned if we unbend the rod in the middle, it may crack the monument, and that monument has a lot of significance.”

The sculpture was one of four that were ordered removed by a federal court from high schools in the Adams County/Ohio Valley School District in Ohio in June 2002. The Faith and Action group won one of the sculptures at a charity auction, and when it was delivered to the District it was put in the backyard, out of public view, while the organization worked to secure a permit to display it on the front lawn.

The D.C. government initially said the group needed a permit to erect the monument because yards in Capitol Hill and other historic districts are considered public land. Officials threatened the Christian group with $300-a-day fines and possible forced sale of the property.

Mr. Schenck said his group argued the sculpture was an example of free speech and city officials backed down weeks later and allowed the monument.

Andrea Noble contributed to this report.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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