Besides, it’ll put Lileks in such a snit

The residents of Fargo have had to put up with one of those Ten Commandments monuments for a long time (well, “put up with” may be the wrong phrase—it’s North Dakota, after all). Now in a smart move, the Red River Freethinkers, who have to be especially canny to live in the Dakotas, are proposing a fair alternative to getting rid of the dodgy nonsense of the Ten Commandments: they’re proposing to put up their own monument to secularism.

Once it goes up, we ought to start a betting pool on which one gets vandalized first, and how long it will be.


  1. Will E. says

    Why isn’t the actual Tripoli treaty quote for the inscription included in the article? Is it that horrible, that unspeakable, like a couplet from the Necronomicon?

  2. Carlie says

    I noticed that too – I read it thinking “Which quote? Which one?” I guess the writers were being coy, or it’s the Voldemort of quotes, or something. Maybe the paper is afraid if anyone recites it three times it will summon atheists?

  3. says

    PZ, you don’t think that a Christians would vandalize a monument, do you? I mean, they understand that Human Beings are a “special creation” and would never do anything bad. It is only the evolutionists who want to destroy the country that would ever think of defacing a monument.

    I got $5 that the Freethinkers monument gets graffito’ed first.

  4. Tyler DiPietro says

    I love the whole “context is under debate” caveat, as if context is provided to any founder quote-mine from the anti-separation crowd. It’s amazing how the right-wing lunatics start exhibiting ambivalence only when something appears contrary to their narrow view of history.

  5. lockean says

    I’ve read that the craze for sticking those things outside county courthouses began as a 1950s marketing gimmick. The movie studio of Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments gave out a bunch of them across the country as PR for the film. That’s why so many of them are identical.

  6. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    Being resident here now I was mulling over possible designs with a Fargo theme and some mischievous spirit popped the image into my head of a Bible being fed into a woodchipper…

    Get thee behind me…

  7. Nathan says

    I’m guessing the quote is this one:

    ” As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian relgion; as it has in itself no charecter of enmityagainst the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen”

    There’s a bit more but I can’t be bothered to type it.

  8. M31 says

    “ARTICLE 11.

    As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

    Interestingly, the US pretty much bought the leaders of Tripoly in getting this treaty signed (as I recall this treaty suppressed piracy, and the cooperation of local leaders was the only way to get it):

    “Praise be to God &c-

    The present writing done by our hand and delivered to the American Captain OBrien makes known that he has delivered to us forty thousand Spanish dollars,-thirteen watches of gold, silver & pinsbach,-five rings, of which three of diamonds, one of saphire and one with a watch in it, One hundred & forty piques of cloth, and four caftans of brocade,-and these on account of the peace concluded with the Americans.

    Given at Tripoli in Barbary the 20th day of Jumad 1211, corresponding with the 21st day of Novr 1796-

    (Signed) JUSSUF BASHAW-Bey whom God Exalt”


    “On the arrival of a consul of the United States in Tripoli he is to deliver to Jussuf Bashaw Bey-
    twelve thousand Spanish dollars
    five hawsers-8 Inch
    three cables-10 Inch
    twenty five barrels tar
    twenty five d° pitch
    ten d° rosin
    five hundred pine boards
    five hundred oak d°
    ten masts (without any measure mentioned, suppose for vessels from 2 to 300 ton)
    twelve yards
    fifty bolts canvas
    four anchors

    And these when delivered are to be in full of all demands on his part or on that of his successors from the United States according as it is expressed in the tenth article of the following treaty. And no farther demand of tributes, presents or payments shall ever be made.”

    All from

  9. brtkrbzhnv says

    A monument of man killing God would be nice, like nailing Him to a cross or something.

  10. weemaryanne says

    Why just one Ten Commandments monument? Why not put up two more? I’m guessing that the current version is the Protestant one, so wouldn’t it be only fair to add one each of the Catholic version and the original Jewish version? — Then stand back and watch the reactions. For the first time, I wish I lived in North Dakota!

  11. Chris Bell says

    Attacking these monuments by insisting on diversity is an underused tactic. Next we need a big 8-armed Hindu monument. The ‘good Christians’ will either be furious or fair. It’s a tough choice.

  12. Graculus says

    Next we need a big 8-armed Hindu monument. The ‘good Christians’ will either be furious or fair. It’s a tough choice.

    Given the current climate, I think something from the Koran would be a lot more fun.

  13. notthedroids says

    Kudos to the Freethinkers, but their website is embarrassingly out of date.

    A call for 2005 dues under “News”?


  14. Brook says

    I certainly noticed that the news station didn’t include the actual quote (although the treaty of tripoli is a pretty big clue).

    Worried about offending viewers by offering a more realistic view of our history?

  15. says

    The Freethinkers have moved their website several times I’m afraid. I can’t find anything really current.

    This news report is the ONLY one I’ve found so far that refers to the actual inscription. Others just say the message says ‘you are free to worship as you please’:

    KFYR-TV News

  16. notthedroids says

    Who are Ben and Stephanie Hasbrouck and Mitchel Scott? On what point does Mr Scott side with the Freethinkers?

    Matt Bradley and/or his editor are being rather coy.

  17. says

    I’m curious about exactly what this monument is going to say. I like the idea too, it might help make people aware of the obvious point that morality doesn’t come from the Bible (or that we’re moral in spite of what’s in the Bible).

  18. DC says

    I think the reason why that particular bit doesn’t read the quote is that it’s probably a script from a pre-produced news package (or adapted from one for web copy), instead of script for an anchor to read at a desk.

    If that’s the case, I can easily imagine a shot of the monument with the Tripoli quote visible, or even a shot of one of a local reading it out loud, which has been edited out of this particular blurb.

    That would also explain the references to strange locals. (As if we’re supposed to know who Ben and Stephanie are… Oh sure, THAT Ben and Stephanie!)

  19. says

    I think it would be fine to put up the Ten Commandments wherever the fundies want, as long as they include the penalties for breaking each one. I believe those are. . .death by stoning, death by stoning, death by stoning, death by stoning, and. . .you get the picture.

  20. Rey Fox says

    Finally these people got smart. Let’s see how serious the Christians in your town really are about freedom of religion.

    The best thing, tactically, to do would be to pick a positive quote from Sagan or someone, but I’d like to see a monument with the quote from the top of Lyla Kahlo’s blog on it, complete with her addendum. Or maybe just her addendum. “Get off your knees. Break free.”

    Why, exactly, would it put Lileks in a snit though? I’ve never read any of his bleats regarding the commandments or monuments or what have you.

  21. MYOB says

    I would prefer no monuments of any kind on government property. As far as I am concerned it’s not within the limits of their power and responsibility to waste our time and our money deciding what kind of carved rock gets placed in front of a government building. They are there to serve as moderators between two parties by establishing laws of conduct between two parties.
    Nothing more nothing less.
    They are not leaders. The constitution and the Bill of Rights does not label these people as rulers. They are there to represent us collectively.
    Of course the spirit of this concept was never adhered to even by the so-called ‘founding fathers’ who were just as hypocritical as any other of today’s time and place.


  22. BlueIndependent says

    Agreed. Why was the secular quote not put in the article? They dance around it and give its history, almost like they’re going to spring it on you…and then they don’t.

    In general, I’m not sure how effective this form of advocacy is. To me it seems like the Red River Freethinkers are engaging in the religious right’s own brand of tit-for-tat tokenism, and will just reduce their argument such that any group wanting to get a piece of the public monument will follow the same tactics. I get that showing diversity to people that should already understand it can change some minds, but IMO they’re trying to fight the RR on the RR’s turf, in a way. I will say it is a fairly nice and elaborate way of challenging the 10 Commandments decision up there in the court of public opinion (hopefully enough to get it into a real court to be “revised”), and perhaps that is the end goal.

    If it works for them, great.

  23. says

    How about a little fight over whose version of the Ten Commandments gets posted? I was taught that #5 is “Thou shalt not kill”, but lots of Protestants (not all!) think the commandment against killing is #6. Since the Bible doesn’t number the contents of the decalogue, different sects have come up with different forms of indexing. But which did God really intend?

  24. Colugo says

    I didn’t know what Lileks’ view on religion were so I did a search.

    James Lileks:

    “I’ve never been a churchy sort of fellow. Organized religion to me, frankly, is like joining NASA in order to look at the moon. But I want to give my daughter a framework for metaphysics, and the hot broth of Lutheranism is as good as start as any.”

    “I worry about libertines who think the greatest threat to the imminent Utopia is a Wal-Mart exec who refuses to stock a CD because the lyrics celebrate shooting cops in the head, or who think that uptight repressed Christers are six inches and five days away from replacing the Constitution with the plot of “A Handmaiden’s Tale.””

    “It goes without saying that selling anti-Christian iconography to European fashionistas is a brave an act as reducing the food pellet allotment to your pet hamster”

    “Summit Beer has a new brand called “Grand” … The ads have a common theme – they show a picture, titled “Good,” and then show the picture with a noticeable improvement, and that one’s titled “Grand.” The ad on the bus shelter showed Moses with two tablets: “Good.” Then Moses with one tablet: “Grand.”

    … First of all, I’m glad I live in America, where I can see an ad that mocks Patriarchs to sell liquor, and I don’t wonder whether the Committee For Hacking Off Hands of Blasphemers arrested everyone in the ad agency and made them draw dotted lines on their own wrists.”

  25. Kagehi says

    The movie studio of Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments gave out a bunch of them across the country as PR for the film. That’s why so many of them are identical.

    Well, that figures. The pledge of allegence was a market campaign for flags, which some idiot (I mean president) got talked into making standard, why not the Ten Commandments.. For that matter, I would love to see some document dredged up some place from early Xian religion that included the minutes from a discussion on how to alter the local legends to better advertise their new priesthood. lol

  26. PM says

    There’s ANOTHER set no one mentions. Remember Moses smashed the first set because the Israelites were being bad? He went up into the mountain again, and God gave him another set, which Moses is said to have written into new stone tablets. And they’re very different! Exodus Ch. 34


    26 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.
    “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

    If you read the Bible enough, you realize it’s a disorganized, internally contradictory mess. Google Bible and contradictions and you’ll get tons of stuff to throw at the Bible beaters.

  27. says

    Somewhere in the Niagara Peninsula is a small cemetary containing a tombstone with a wonderful inscription on it, written by the deceased (in advance) about his humanist and secular convictions. I must try to find it this summer or dig up my old photo of it.

  28. autumn says

    Article VI of the Constitution of The United States, in paragraph 2,
    “…all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby…”

    As the Treaty of Tripoli is a dully ratified treaty, it bears the full weight of constitutional authority, including all of its clauses.

    End of discussion.

    Get your fucking cross off my watertower.

  29. W. Kiernan says

    What? Ben’s seeing Stephanie now? Jesus, I never thought I’d see that, after, you know, him and that guy Mitchel almost got into it over, you know, that thing they did at that party. Although Stephanie’s pretty hot. I mean, I can sort of understand where Ben’s coming from.

    But still.

  30. Rieux says

    the Treaty of Tripoli is a dully ratified treaty….

    I think you mean “duly.”

    After all, Adams was a pretty sharp guy. [rim shot]