OKLAHOMA CITY — Following a legal challenge from an apostate Baptist minister, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that a Ten Commandments monument placed on the grounds of the Oklahoma capitol building must be removed because it violates the state Constitution’s prohibition of government property being used to support religion.
As previously reported, the display had been proposed by Rep. Mike Ritze in 2009, and was soon after approved by the largely Republican-run state legislature. Ritze paid over $1000 for the display, and no taxpayer funds were utilized in its creation.
“[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 2009 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.”
In August 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma filed suit against the display, asserting that its erection on the grounds of the state capitol building was unconstitutional.
The lead plaintiff was liberal 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…”
In the meantime, a New York-based Satanist group sought to erect an “homage to Satan” near the monument, and other groups chimed in to seek permission to place statues at the location as well.
But last September, Seventh District Court Judge Thomas Prince concluded that the monument served a historical purpose and not solely the presentment of a religious message as it sits on a plot of land that contains 51 other expressive monuments.
The case was then refiled with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled on Tuesday 7-2 that the monument must be removed because it violates Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution, which states that property cannot be used to promote a “church denomination or system of religion.”
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such,” the section reads.
Concurring justices were Chief Justice John F. Reif; Justice Yvonne Kauger; Justice Joseph M. Watt; Justice James R. Winchester; Justice James E. Edmondson; Justice Steve W. Taylor; and Justice Noma D. Gurich. Vice Chief Justice Douglas L. Combs and Justice Tom Colbert dissented.
Prescott applauded the outcome following its announcement.
“I think what the judges realize is when the Constitution was framed, the people of Oklahoma were very strong in their affirmation of separation of church and state,” he told Tulsa World. “They did not want government and religion mixed.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said that he is considering his options for an appeal.
“Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong,” he wrote in a statement. “The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law.”