Oklahoma Committee Advances Bill Allowing Display of Ten Commandments on Public Grounds

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has advanced a bill that would allow for the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and on the grounds of such facilities.

H.B. 2177, introduced by Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, passed the House General Government, Oversight and Accountability nearly unanimously with a vote of 7-1 on Thursday. It recognizes the impact of certain documents on American history.

“Every county, municipality, city, town, school or any other political subdivision is authorized to display, in its public buildings and on its grounds, replicas of historical documents including, but not limited to, the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, Oklahoma Constitution and other historically significant documents in the form of statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or any other display that respects the dignity and solemnity of such documents,” it reads in part.

The bill also authorizes the attorney general’s office to defend the constitutionality of the display should it be challenged in court.

According to Tulsa World, Bennett said in introducing the legislation that the Ten Commandments have “impacted American law and culture with a force similar only to that of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

Other religions, such as Islam or Satanism, would not be included because they did not play a role in the founding of the nation.

The move appears to serve as a means to restore the Ten Commandments to the state capitol after it was removed in October 2015 following a ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

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As previously reported, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma was at the helm of the legal effort to have the monument removed, as it asserted that the placement of the Decalogue on the grounds of the state capitol building was unconstitutional.

The lead plaintiff in the case was liberal minister Bruce Prescott, the director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.

Last April, following the removal of the monument and a determination among some to have it restored, lawmakers approved a resolution to place the Ten Commandments controversy on the Oklahoma ballot. But the resolution was rejected by voters in November 57 to 42 percent.

As previously reported, the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Van Orden v. Perry, which upheld a Ten Commandments monument at the Texas state capitol, noted that Decalogue displays are “common throughout America.”

“We need only look within our own courtroom,” the justices wrote. “Since 1935, Moses has stood, holding two tablets that reveal portions of the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew, among other lawgivers in the south frieze.”

“Similar acknowledgments can be seen throughout a visitor’s tour of our nation’s capital. For example, a large statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, alongside a statue of the Apostle Paul, has overlooked the rotunda of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building since 1897,” the decision continued. “And the Jefferson Building’s Great Reading Room contains a sculpture of a woman beside the Ten Commandments with a quote above her from the Old Testament (Micah 6:8).”

“A medallion with two tablets depicting the Ten Commandments decorates the floor of the national archives,” the court outlined. “Inside the Department of Justice, a statue entitled “The Spirit of Law” has two tablets representing the Ten Commandments lying at its feet. In front of the Ronald Reagan Building is another sculpture that includes a depiction of the Ten Commandments.”

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