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Commandments plaque historically important


Timothy Engleman letter to the editor

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Christian. As the result of an enlightening class at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, I recognize that the first four of the Ten Commandments tie them inextricably to the Judeo-Christian belief system. However, I oppose their removal from the Allegheny County Courthouse on neither religious nor political grounds.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. I argue that the Ten Commandments plaque should stay in place to preserve the fabric and integrity of the architecture. I know the plaque was not affixed at the building’s erection. I know nearly a century in place does give it historical significance.

Ancient Rome’s Vitruvius stated architecture’s three tenets: Commodity (function), Firmness (sound construction) and Delight (esthetic appeal). Architectural esthetics means not only form, color and texture, but also the expression of ideas. In a public building, commonly held ideals are often expressed quite literally. At the turn of the 20th century, posting of the Ten Commandments would have met with wide approval, and sensitivity to minority views was not an important issue. Removal of the plaque, now, amounts to historical revisionism.

Above the Grant Street entrance to the Courthouse is carved, “A.D. MDCCCLXXXIV,” or Anno Domini (Year of Our Lord) 1884. Presumably, this reference to Jesus Christ is potentially offensive or intimidating to an even wider population than the Ten Commandments. Shall we chisel away the stone and deface the architecture by substituting the “Common Era” as our temporal benchmark?

Why not just place another plaque below the Ten Commandments? Its text: “The above artifact is historical in nature, and does not necessarily reflect the precepts of Allegheny County Government.”

Timothy C. Engleman


Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633