OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission has unanimously voted to place a temporary ban on new monuments at the state capitol building following requests from several groups to erect displays next to a Ten Commandments monument.
As previously reported, the monument at issue was proposed and paid for in 2009 by Republican Representative Mike Ritze, and was soon after approved by the largely Republican-run state legislature.
“[T]he Ten Commandments are an important component of the foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the State of Oklahoma,” the bill authorizing the monument acknowledged. “[T]he courts of the United States of America and of various states frequently cite the Ten Commandments in published decisions, and acknowledgements of the role played by the Ten Commandments in our nation’s heritage are common throughout America.”
The six-foot display was erected last year, but the ACLU said that the monument was unconstitutional.
“The monument’s placement at the Capitol has created a more divisive and hostile state for many Oklahomans,” stated Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of ACLU of Oklahoma, in a news release. “When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal.”
This past August, the organization filed suit against the monument, with the lead plaintiff being minister Bruce Prescott, the director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. Prescott said that mixing the sacred with the secular in such a manner cheapens the display, and asserted that it violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
To solve the dispute, the New York-based Satanic Temple offered earlier this month to to donate a public monument to be placed near the Ten Commandments display in order to “appease the ACLU’s concerns.” It said that if Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission granted the request, it would then seek public input for the text and design on the proposed “homage to Satan.”
“By accepting our offer, the good people of Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution. We imagine that the ACLU would also embrace such a response,” stated spokesperson Lucien Greaves in a news release about the monument.
The Universalist Society of Hinduism soon afterward issued a release, outlining its intent to likewise request permission to place a statue of the Hindu monkey king Hanuman near the Ten Commandments monument.
“[I]f the Oklahoma State Capitol was open to different monuments, we would love to have a statue of Lord Hanuman, who was greatly revered and worshiped and known for incredible strength and was perfect grammarian,” president Rajan Zed stated. “[B]esides honoring the Hindus living in Oklahoma, this statue would raise awareness of Oklahomans about Hinduism, [the] oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) then also advised that it also wanted a display at the capital building.
But on Thursday, the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission voted unanimously to ban any new monuments from being erected on the Capitol grounds until the ACLU lawsuit has run its course. It has not issued a public statement about the matter.
The Liberty Institute, a Christian legal organization in Plano, Texas, is defending the Ten Commandments monument alongside Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
“The ACLU and others have made it their mission to eliminate any trace of religion from public view,” the organization remarked. “Legislative prayer, city-sponsored senior wellness centers, … sacred veterans memorials–nothing and no one is safe from their attacks. However, Liberty Institute is fighting back.”
The case is called Prescott v. Oklahoma, bearing the name of the Baptist minister who objects to the monument’s presence on the Capitol grounds.