“The Real History of The Ten Commandments Project, Of The Fraternal Order of Eagles” by Sue A. Hoffman

Reference: Religious Tolerance


The Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE) established its first Youth Guidance Commission in 1943. Although they accomplished many noteworthy projects throughout the next few years, they wanted one program that would be acceptable throughout the country that would promote a practical program of youth guidance. Starting in 1948, several conversations between prominent major religious groups, law enforcement entities, family specialists, and marketing specialists took place. After three years of discussions, the FOE employed the artists of Brown and Bigelow to prepare a decorative 20×26 inch version of the Ten Commandments that would be suitable for framing. It contained not only a universally acceptable translation of the Ten Commandments, but it also displayed an American flag, an eagle, two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the All-Seeing Eye of God super-imposed on a triangle, the Star of David, and the Greek letters of Chi Rho (Хρ; representing the first two letters of Christ). This framed version was to be presented as a gift from individual aeries (local groups) to juvenile, district, and municipal courts, as well as to churches, schools, and civic and fraternal organizations. Recipients also included many government and religious officials, business leaders, President Harry Truman, and Pope Pius XII, among other dignitaries both nationally and internationally.

The State of Minnesota initiated this project in 1951 by distributing more than 7,000 smaller replicas of the framed Ten Commandments. The project went national in December 1953, and by March 1954, 10,000 prints were made available for national distribution. The following year, in 1955, another 18,000 copies were printed and distributed. It is estimated that 4,000 of the larger, framed prints were made and presented to individuals and organizations, both in the public and private sector. In 1958, 250,000 copies of a 96-page book in comic format, “On Eagle Wings,” had been printed and were on their way for distribution to Boy Scouts and other youth programs across the country. These books introduced a juvenile offender to the Ten Commandments during a fishing trip that changed his life.

The beginnings of such an enormous project started with just one man, Judge E. J. Ruegemer. In 1946, while serving as a juvenile and probate court judge in Minnesota, a 16-year-old young man came before him charged with seriously injuring a man that he struck while driving a stolen car. It was recommended that the boy be sentenced to the State Training School, but the Judge ordered a background check and discovered that the boy came from a broken home. This boy also had hearing difficulties, poor vision, and was sitting in the back of his classroom. The Judge decided to give him a suspended sentence with the stipulation that he would stay in close contact with the officer that brought him in, and to learn and keep the Ten Commandments.

The young man stated that he did not know anything about the Ten Commandments and asked where he could find them. The Judge pointed to the large library of law books and informed the boy that they were contained within those books. The boy appeared shocked and asked how he could be expected to find them in all those books. It was explained that the books contained thousands of laws, but he needed to seek out only ten of them because all of the laws in the country dealing with human relations were based upon those ten. Those ten laws alone would be sufficient to guide him and to keep him out of trouble. The Judge then made arrangements with a pastor of the boy’s mother’s faith to teach him the Ten Commandments.

A few years after that incident, while he was Chairman of the Minnesota Youth Guidance Committee, Judge E. J. Ruegemer initiated the Ten Commandments project. He firmly believed in the Ten Commandments as the oldest code of conduct handed down to man, and he “always believed the Ten Commandments were a guide to basic moral conduct.” The Judge passed away on 2005-JAN-12, 2005 at 102 years of age.

Debunking the DeMille Controversy:

Director Cecil B. DeMille was very impressed with what the Judge had accomplished with the FOE’s Youth Guidance Program in working with the prevention of juvenile delinquency. In an article that DeMille wrote in 1955 while he was in Israel filming The Ten Commandments, he contemplated what determines the character of individuals and what the final purpose of life really is. DeMille called Judge Ruegemer and asked about making bronze plaques of the Ten Commandments that could be placed in courthouse squares, city halls, and public parks so that the work that the Judge had started would become permanent reminders to the youth of the day. The Judge mentioned that God did it in stone. With Judge Ruegemer leading the way, the framed pictures were translated into granite monoliths.

DeMille was honored in 1956 by the FOE for his valuable suggestions regarding the monoliths, the article that he wrote for the FOE Eagle magazine, the gift of a replica of one of the tablets of the Ten Commandments made from Mount Sinai granite in which DeMille allowed a facsimile to be used in the larger versions, and the continued support of allowing Paramount Pictures to have three of the actors from The Ten Commandments to be present at a few of the unveilings of the monoliths. In return, the FOE urged its members to support The Ten Commandments movie as it was released in cities across the country. The timing of the monoliths and the release of the movie provided a win-win situation that needed no money to cross hands. Two men, the Judge and DeMille, envisioned a better world for young people, and it was in that meeting of the minds that enhanced a program that had already been in existence for several years.

In 1957, Mr. Weiss of Paramount Pictures authorized that in every city where The Ten Commandments movie was shown, the theatres were asked to designate one night as Eagles Night, to turn over to the local aeries all tickets that were sold by the Eagle members for that night, and out of the proceeds, a percentage would be set aside earmarked for the carrying out of the Ten Commandments’ program.


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