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Opponents vow to fight return of Ten Commandments Monument to Capitol

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
The Ten Commandments monument has been housed on OCPA's property since October 2015.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – If one of any of the several bills the Oklahoma legislature is considering this session results in a vote to allow the Ten Commandments monument to be returned to the state capitol, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma is ready for a fight.

Several bills aimed to allow the monument of the Ten Commandments to be displayed on Oklahoma State Capitol grounds have been introduced in both the Oklahoma House and Senate this session, but opponents have vowed to fight what they say is a clear violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.

At least four bills were introduced in the 2016 legislative session that would allow voters to change the state constitution to allow the use of public money or property to display the religious monument, a move that opponents are calling irresponsible and “silly” in a time when the state is suffering a major budget crisis.

Last year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol, paid for by private funds, must be removed because it was a religious monument on state-funded grounds.

The 6-foot-tall granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments, which had drawn strong support from the Republican leadership, was removed in October after months of lawsuits launched by groups claiming that its location at the Capitol violated local laws and U.S. Constitutional provisions against government support of a religion.

After its removal, Gov. Mary Fallin said she would support a move to return the monument to Capitol grounds.

“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. I strongly encourage lawmakers to take up this issue in the next legislative session,” she said in a statement.

Now, Republican lawmakers are answering her call.

“I believe the people of Oklahoma support this,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, a Republican from Oklahoma City who authored of one of the bills. “I believe this battle is a battle that belongs to the people of Oklahoma.”

Ryan Kiesel, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which challenged the placement of the monument, said the bills were not only a waste of time, but would still be in violation of the state constitution.

“This is a colossal waste of time,” he said. “Our state has a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, our schools are in crisis mode, we are hemorrhaging health care, yet a handful of legislators insist on playing politics with religion. They are wielding religion like a weapon.”

If the measures are put on the ballot and voters choose to change the state constitution, the ACLU said it would file additional lawsuits claiming violations to the constitution.

“We would again sue under the First Amendment, and we would win at a considerable legal cost to the state,” Kiesel said. “The state can’t afford to offend the constitution.”

The First Amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

Jordan said his bill could save some Native American artwork with religious themes at state buildings and would insure hospitals supported by religious affiliations would continue to receive federal funds like Medicare.

“I think there is a world of difference, and these folks are either don’t know better or are actively attempting to deceive the people of Oklahoma with this argument,” said Kiesel. “The Ten Commandments represents a clear commentary on how to worship and who to worship. To draw a correlation to that is ridiculous.

Lawmakers have argued that the monument, which was paid for with private money and installed in 2012, was not serving a religious purpose, but was meant to mark a historical event.

That opened the door for other groups, including Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to apply for permission to erect their own monuments on Capitol grounds to mark what they say are historical events.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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