OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The Oklahoma Supreme Court has declined to accept an appeal of its order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state capitol grounds after it declared the presence of the display unconstitutional last month.
“We carefully consider the arguments of the commission and find no merit warranting a grant of rehearing,” Chief Justice John Reif wrote on behalf of the nine justices, which ruled 7-2 not to accept the appeal.
As previously reported, the Oklahoma Supreme Court likewise ruled 7-2 last month 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.
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…”
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. But the case was appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court ruling.
Gov. Mary Fallin and members of the state legislature are now considering passing legislation to alter the state constitution so that it makes provision for the presence of the monument.
“The Ten Commandments monument was built to recognize and honor the historical significance of the Commandments in our state’s and nation’s systems of laws,” Fallin said in a statement. “The monument was built and maintained with private dollars. It is virtually identical to a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol which the United States Supreme Court ruled to be permissible. It is a privately funded tribute to historical events, not a taxpayer funded endorsement of any religion, as some have alleged.”