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Governor says she will work to repeal a constitutional provision so Ten Commandments monument can return to Capitol

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
Gov. Mary Fallin at a press conference Tuesday speaking about the Ten Commandments monument's move.
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Questions linger about payment for second monument; Ritze offers no comment

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Ten Commandments monument that was the centerpiece of a controversial lawsuit earlier this year has been moved from the state Capitol to private property at the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs.

The OCPA office is 10 blocks south of the Capitol and was the site of news conference Tuesday afternoon with Gov. Mary Fallin promising to help repeal a provision in the Oklahoma Constitution which specifically prohibits state funds or property from being used to further any religion, church or sect, either directly or indirectly.

Any change in the state constitution would require a public vote, which apparently is the plan of some lawmakers and the governor when the 2016 legislative session begins in February. Lawmakers plan to introduce a resolution that would call for a vote on deleting Article 2, Section 5 of the constitution.

“Moving forward, I believe the people of Oklahoma should have the opportunity to vote on a proposed constitutional change to ensure that historical monuments like this one are not pushed out of public spaces,” Fallin said.

Article 2, Section 5 reads, “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 constitutional provision in question has been referred to as a Blaine Amendment, named after Republican Congressman James G. Blaine who proposed the amendment to the federal Constitution in 1875. The proposed amendment passed by a vote of 180-7 in the House of Representatives, but failed by four votes to achieve the necessary two-thirds requirement in the U.S. Senate. It never became law. However, it had a higher level of success among the states with all but 11 adding the provision to their state constitutions.

Fallin and OCPA President Michael Carnuccio said they disagreed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision that required the monument’s removal. The court issued its decision earlier this summer and then opted not to rehear the case after Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt appealed.

“The state Supreme Court cited the Blaine Amendment in its ruling, a provision originally designed to suppress Catholic education while allowing state funding of protestant-oriented schools,” Carnuccio said in a prepared statement. “The state needs to repeal the Blaine Amendment, and we will work towards that goal.”

The OCPA is a public policy research organization that focuses on state-based issues from a perspective of limited government, individual liberty and a free-market economy.

When the state Supreme Court issued its decision, Justice Steven Taylor wrote in the majority opinion, “This provision unequivocally bars the state from allowing its property to be used for a religious benefit. (It) is a clear limitation on state government spending and use of public property. It is a limitation on the state’s reach into its citizens’ private lives.”

In his 18-page opinion, Taylor delved into the ideas expressed by the members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention, acknowledging they started their meetings with a prayer and invoked God’s guidance.

“While the constitutional framers may have been men of faith, they recognized the necessity of a complete separation of church and state and sought to prevent the ills that would befall a state if they failed to provide for this complete separation in the Oklahoma Constitution,” the justice wrote.

Taylor also wrote that the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on state property benefits the Judeo-Christian system of religion” while excluding all others.

“The Ten Commandments is an iconic symbol of the Christian religion and is inherently religious. Further, with the initial inscription being ‘I AM the LORD thy God,’ the monument needs no external references to know that it is primarily and fore mostly religious,” Taylor wrote.

Those who support the court’s decision claim Article 2, Section 5 is not a Blaine Amendment because it never addresses schools or education.

OCPA President Michael Carnuccio and Fallin at a press conference Tuesday speaking about the Ten Commandments monument's move. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Where’s the money?

Questions surfaced this week that Kansas-based Wilbert Memorials had not been paid for the existing monument. A representative from the company promised to return calls to Red Dirt Report, but did not. State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) and his family paid about $10,000 for the original monument and its installation. However, it was destroyed in October 2014 when a mentally-ill man drove his car across the Capitol lawn and destroyed it.

In January, Ritze said in an Associated Press story that he was privately raising money to reimburse Wilbert Memorials while the monument company fronted the cost for the new monument. Ritze had no comment Tuesday about the payment for the second monument.

However, Ritze offered a statement about the monument being placed on OCPA property.

“I am pleased to allow the monument to remain near the Capitol at this time as a symbol of our work to repeal the Blaine Amendment. This monument is identical to many others upheld as constitutional by courts across the country, including the United States Supreme Court, and we will focus our efforts on restoring the monument to its rightful place,” he said.

Fallin told reporters Tuesday the state paid $4,700 for to remove the monument and the OCPA paid for prep work done on its property.

The decision to place the monument on OCPA property was made jointly by the governor’s office and the Office of Enterprise Management Services. Fallin said OCPA was selected because of its prominent location along Lincoln Boulevard. OCPA’s office is at NW 14th and Lincoln Boulevard.

Fallin also downplayed the suggestion that she is paying more attention to the monument than major state problems.

“There are a lot of important issues to deal with, but the legislature passed this bill (to erect monument) before I came into office,” she said, calling the monument a “benefit to Oklahomans.”

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