Judge E.J. Ruegemer and the Fraternal Order of Eagles

In 1946, Judge E.J. Ruegemer, a juvenile and probate court judge in St. Cloud, Minnesota, heard a case involving a troubled young teenager who had injured a man in an accident while driving a stolen car. Rather than sentencing him, he decided that the young man would be better served by learning the Ten Commandments than receiving a harsh punishment, and arranged for a pastor to teach them to him. In 1951, Judge Ruegemer, a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, continued to pursue this project on a larger scale as Chairman of the Minnesota Youth Guidance Committee, heading a program that distributed paper copies of the Ten Commandments to “juvenile, district, and municipal courts…churches, schools…civic and fraternal organizations,” and a number of high profile religious, government, and business leaders.1 Although the program began in Minnesota, its reach had spread across America by 1953. By 1955, aeries (Fraternal Order of Eagles groups) nationwide had gifted thousands of paper prints of the Ten Commandments to local individuals and organizations as part of this campaign to instill good moral conduct in American youth.

  1. Sue A. Hoffman, "The real history of the Ten Commandments project of the Fraternal Order of Eagles," Religious Tolerance, Published March 6, 2005; last modified July 22, 2015, http://www.religioustolerance.org/hoffman01.htm

As Judge Ruegemer writes in his statement on the back of the poster, “The Fraternal Order of Eagles is first of all a patriotic fraternity. It requires of its membership in the initial obligation the belief in the existence of a Supreme Being.” The Fraternal Order of Eagles is not affiliated with a particular religious agenda, however, and its representation of the Ten Commandments was explicitly addressing an interfaith audience. Glowing statements of approval from W. F. Dickens-Lewis, D. D., the secretary of the St. Cloud Ministerial Association (“composed of every Protestant Pastor in [the] area”); Rabbi Albert G. Minda of Temple Israel in Minneapolis; and P. W. Bartholome, D. D., the Bishop of St. Cloud were all listed on the back of the print, confirming its broad acceptance, at least among the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities. Also included on the back of the document were encouraging statements from several authors, J. Edgar Hoover, Cecil B. DeMille, and a Judge of the United States District Court in Washington, D.C.

Among the quoted supporters was Garey Cleveland Myers, the “Editor of Highlights for Children, Author of the Modern Parents and numerous other books, Writer of Daily Syndicated Newspaper column,” who affirmed his support of the program not simply as morally beneficial, but as a patriotic effort as well. As he writes, “By placing the Ten Commandments so attractively within the easy reading view of all the children of America, the Fraternal Order of Eagles puts the imperishable first and helps to arm our beloved country against the Godlessness of communism.”