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Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments Statue Must Be Removed from Capital, State Supreme Court Rules

( [email protected] ) Jul 01, 2015 06:10 PM EDT
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the state's capitol after ruling that it "violates the state's constitutional ban on using public property to benefit a religion."
A statue of the Ten Commandments sit near the Oklahoma State Capitol. Getty Images

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the state's capitol after ruling that it "violates the state's constitutional ban on using public property to benefit a religion."

Local news station KOCO reported that on Tuesday, the court stated that the Ten Commandments chiseled into the 6-foot-tall granite monument, which was privately funded by a Republican legislator, are "obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths."

The 7-2 ruling overturns a decision by Seventh District Court Judge Thomas Prince, who last September 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.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who said that he is considering his options for an appeal following Tuesday's ruling, argued that the monument was historical in nature and nearly identical to a Texas monument that was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"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."

Christian News journalist Heather Clark notes that the display had been proposed by Republican Rep. Mike Ritze in 2009, and was soon after approved by the 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."

However, 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 in the case was 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. He also stated that the statue is "unavoidable" to people walking near the Capitol building, and it gives the impression that the state endorses Christianity as an official religion. 

On Tuesday, Prescott celebrated 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."

In a Fox News op-ed, Conservative commentator Erick Erickson criticized the Oklahoma Supreme Court for deviating from earlier court precedents in arriving at their conclusion and warned that "until the legislature and executive are willing to push back, we are out of a representative democracy and into the oligarchy of black robed masters."

He added, "It is profoundly hard to believe that the drafters of the Oklahoma State Constitution in 1907 would have thought a display of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional.  But seven members of that state's highest court have done it.  The legislature and governor, who support the Ten Commandments, should grow spines and fight back against judicial tyranny."