Okla.’s Commandment Monument Must Go

     OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – A Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma Capitol is unconstitutional and must come down, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
     The court concluded 7-2 today that the 6-foot-tall stone monument violates Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution, which says “no public money or property” should ever be applied or donated for the use of any church, denomination, religious leader or sectarian institution.
     Bruce Prescott brought the underlying challenge in 2013, a year after the privately funded monument was installed, with authorization by state lawmakers in 2009.
     Though the trial court had ruled for the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission last year, the state Supreme Court declined Tuesday to apply recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent in which a Ten Commandments monument in neighboring Texas was found not to violate the federal establishment clause.
     “The issue in the case at hand is whether the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution, not whether it violates the Establishment Clause,” the unsigned opinion states. “Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence. As concerns the ‘historic purpose’ justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”
     Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Article 2, Section 5, should be repealed if it “is going to be construed in such a manner” by the court.
     “Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong,” Pruitt said in a statement. “The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law. Furthermore, the court’s incorrect interpretation of Article 2, Section 5 contradicts previous rulings of the court. In response, my office will file a petition with the court for a rehearing in light of the broader implications of this ruling on other areas of state law. In the interim, enforcement of the court’s order cannot occur.”
     Justices John Reif, Yvonne Kauger, Joseph Watt, James Winchester, James Edmondson, Steven Taylor and Noma Gurich ruled with the majority, while Justices Doug Combs and Tom Colbert dissented.     
     Through his attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, Prescott applauded today’s ruling.
     “Religious people should rejoice that despite the state’s argument to the contrary, the court made clear that the Ten Commandments Monument is obviously religious in nature, and not merely a secular historical artifact,” he said in a statement late Tuesday.
     ACLU of Oklahoma executive director Ryan Kiesel said the monument made the state “more divisive and hostile,” sending a message “to some citizens that they are less than equal.”
     “Today the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognizes that when the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it is an affront to one of the most fundamental protections of the Oklahoma Constitution, namely that all Oklahomans, regardless of the beliefs, stand before their government as equals,” Kiesel said.
     ACLU of Oklahoma legal director Brady Henderson meanwhile said the ruling affirms the “time-honored idea that my faith is a relationship between me and God, not me, God and my local government.”
     “The framers of Oklahoma’s Constitution, like the founders of our country, understood that our religious choices are our own to make, not the government’s,” Henderson said. “Today’s decision is a victory for all Oklahomans who value the simple freedom to come to their own conclusions about matters of conscience.”
     Several atheist and religious groups demanded the state erect monuments to their faiths shortly after the Ten Commandments were installed.
     In 2014, the New York City-based Satanic Temple sought to erect a monument of Satan as Baphomet – a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a beard – sitting on a pentagram throne with two smiling children standing beside him.
     The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster filed a similar request. The temple announced Tuesday it will withdraw its application in light of the high court’s order to remove the Ten Commandments.

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