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AG Pruitt claims Ten Commandments ruling creates hostility toward religion in latest court filing

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
The Ten Commandments outside the Oklahoma State Capitol on a rainy day in the summer of 2015.
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ACLU contends AG trying to stall removal of monument; may seek sanctions for 'frivolous' pleading

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is grasping for straws in his latest fight to keep the Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds.

This time, Pruitt claims the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s order forcing the display to be removed is unconstitutional because it creates hostility toward religion. Pruitt filed a brief in Oklahoma County District Court asking District Judge Thomas E. Prince to consider if the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Under his argument, if the state Supreme Court has violated it so has the U.S. Supreme Court on several recent decisions,” said Brady Henderson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.

State Supreme Court justices decided 7-2 to remove the display, citing Article 2, Section 5, which states no public money or property can be used to “directly or indirectly” benefit a church or religion.

Pruitt’s brief drew a quick and thunderous response from Henderson who referred to the filing as “one of the most frivolous pleadings I’ve ever seen, truly to the point of being abusive.”

The ACLU will “seriously consider” seeking sanctions with the Oklahoma Bar Association against the AG’s lawyers who filed the brief.

“We’re not saying they’re guilty of filing a frivolous lawsuit, but the pleading is that bad. But this is something we will take a look at. This is an AG who talks about reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits, but here he is filing one of the most frivolous I’ve seen in my career, Henderson said.

The AG’s office may be trying to create a situation that hinders the removal of the monument.

“A lot will depend what the judge (Prince) does. By creating a fake First Amendment case, if he quickly denies the pleading, they (AG) may seek a remedy in federal court and that would create a delay,” Henderson said.

Prince is scheduled to meet with ACLU and state lawyers Sept. 11 to decide when the monument will be taken down, who will pay for the removal among other details.

Gov. Mary Fallin has been insistent throughout the legal battle that the Ten Commandments monument stays on the Capitol grounds.

The state Supreme Court ruled in June that the monument should be removed and later denied a rehearing request by the attorney general’s office.

Pruitt said Thursday the state Supreme Court’s decision is a declaration that prohibits “manifestations of faith from the public square in such a way as to create hostility toward religion” and causing a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Pruitt had argued before the Court in June the monument was “lawfully permitted on the Capitol grounds because of the historical significance of the text on the development of Western code.”

Citing previous court cases, Pruitt argued in the filing that state power is no more to be used to handicap religions than it is favor them. He claims the government may not establish a religion of secularism that opposes or shows hostility to religion while showing preference to people who believe in no religion over those who do believe.

The AG’s office claims government must maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion.

The ACLU will file a response to the AG’s pleading next week, Henderson said.

The Ten Commandments monument was authorized by a legislative resolution and paid for by state Rep. Mike Ritze and his family.

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Tim Farley

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