|The City Sentinel|
Ryan Kiesel is executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.
By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
Posted: November 17, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY – Talking to Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, on late Friday afternoon, it was clear he had had a busy day, after news broke that morning that a state legislator had paid for and installed a 2,000-lb granite copy of “The Ten Commandments.”
“It’s been a crazy day,” Kiesel said with a chuckle.
And while the state legislature had approved of the idea three years earlier (when Kiesel himself was a legislator – and hadn’t voted on the bill one way or the other – he did try to get it debated at the time), no money had been put forth to pay for it – until State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) ponied up the $20 grand or so for the monument and base. We wrote about it here.
Of course there is that whole issue of the “separation of church and state” an American concept that seems to have eluded Reps. Ritze, Mike Reynolds and others who allegedly have a Christian Dominionist worldview and are looking to impose their beliefs on all Oklahomans.
But about that monolithic copy of the Ten Commandments …
Of course the headline Friday was that Ritze’s copy of the Mosaic law – which he says is the foundation of current American law – contained some misspellings, including the words “Sabbeth” and “maidseruant.” Apparently they did not spell-check before carving those famous words in stone.
Anyway, Director Kiesel, who was doing interviews all day with local, state and national media regarding the controversy and when we spoke with him he said ACLU Oklahoma was “taking the placement of the monument very seriously.”
“It’s premature to say if we’re going to file a lawsuit,” Kiesel said. “We’re investigating all the facts … the bill’s adoption, placement of the monument, the circumstances in the placement of the monument, and the atmosphere that the placing of the monument has created.”
Kiesel said the Leflore County Courthouse in Poteau may be the next home of a copy of the Ten Commandments and the ACLU is looking that as well. This is just two years after the ACLU of Oklahoma and Haskell County reached a settlement in a lawsuit over a Ten Commandments monument placed on county property in Stigler. Haskell County still owes the ACLU of Oklahoma thousands of dollars in attorneys fees over that case.
Specifically regarding this current incident at the Oklahoma State Capitol, Kiesel said that Ritze and his supporters have said they expect lawsuits to come their way.
“The fact that they would do anything to provoke a lawsuit is clearly a divisive move,” he said. “It’s about dividing Oklahomans and that is something the First Amendment attempts to guard against.”
Added Kiesel: “It really speaks volumes that these legislators are willing to waste a lot of time and energy (on this Ten Commandments controversy) when they should be focusing on the real important issues facing Oklahomans.”
Kiesel also said he is surprised that Reps. Ritze and Reynolds are pronouncing that the Ten Commandments display is a “purely historical and secular” display.
“I think (their fellow Christians) would be shocked to hear them say that this is just a historical document,” Kiesel said.
Back to the issue of the First Amendment and freedom of speech and freedom of religion, Kiesel said the Founders knew that religion could “be a powerful political weapon” and that “it’s a weapon that is most effective when you are dividing people, not bringing them together.”
Knowing that, the Founders, Kiesel said, took that divisive “religious weapon” away from the American government, despite attempts over the decades by the Religious Right to claim America is a Christian nation.
“The government shouldn’t have anything to do with (religion),” he said.
And regarding another story we noted here yesterday at Red Dirt Report – the case of Tyler Alred, the Muskogee teen who has been sentenced to 10 years of church attendance after being found guilty of manslaughter.
Kiesel said this case baffled him as well.
“The government cannot coerce a person to have or not have a particular religious belief,” Kiesel said. “When you require a person to go to church for 10 years, well, what if they have a crisis of faith or they change their religion or they decide they are not wanting to go to church at all? It flies right in the face of what the First Amendment is all about.”
And another First Amendment case the ACLU of Oklahoma is following involves Bible-banging Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves and his August decision to deny transgendered James Dean Ingram the right to change her name to Angela Renee Ingram. Graves was quoted in the local media as telling Ingram “you can’t change what God gave you” and said the attempt to change from male to female through a gender-reassignment procedure is “fraudulent” and in violation of state law.
Kiesel said he just learned that Judge Graves is “sticking with denying the name change.”
And before heading off to a meeting, Kiesel also noted that Shariah law case. He clearly had a lot on his plate this day.
“Lots of First Amendment issues,” Kiesel said, adding that with all the cases coming up, he was “shifting a lot of gears today.”
For more information go to www.acluok.org
UPDATE (Nov. 18, 2012 9:12 a.m.)* In the interest of providing full details of Ryan Kiesel's involvement in the legislative vote on the Ten Commandments, Kiesel told Red Dirt Report that he did vote against the bill on a third reading and debated against it on the floor of the House. Kiesel said he did miss the final vote on the bill because he was "away from the Chamber for some time," yet he later made a motion that the House journal reflect that he had been present for the vote and would have voted "no" on Ritze's bill. Here is a link to that House journal entry.
Copyright 2012 Red Dirt Report