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HOLY MOSES! Judge, attorneys to finalize details for removal of Ten Commandments monument

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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Fallin continues crusade to keep religious display on Capitol grounds

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma’s controversial 10 Commandments case is coming to an end after two years of religious battles and legal wrangling.

Oklahoma County District Judge Thomas E. Prince will meet Friday, Sept. 11 with attorneys from the attorney general’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. At that time, the judge and lawyers will discuss the resolution of the case, including the date the monument will be taken down.

Brady Henderson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said he believes the monument should be removed from the north steps of the state Capitol in seven to 10 days after the Sept. 11 conference.

“When the monument comes down may depend on what the Capitol Preservation Commission thinks. If it comes back with a figure that says ‘we’ll do it in six months’ we will have to talk about that. But if they come back and say they can get it done in 10 days, maybe two weeks, that would seem reasonable. Anything longer than that would make us suspicious. It’s difficult to imagine why it would take any longer. In theory, they can be making plans now to take it down,” Henderson said.

For the most part, however, the Sept. 11 meeting will focus on specific details of the monument’s removal, including the cost and who is responsible for payment.

“The judge wants to bring the lawyers in from both sides to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Henderson said.

At this point, Prince has no choice but to abide by a ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which voted 7-2 that the monument be removed. In 2014, Prince dismissed a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister, James Huff, Donald Chabot and Cheryl Franklin.  The defendant in the case is the Capitol Preservation Commission, which oversees all monuments placed on state property.

The plaintiffs objected to a religious monument being placed on state grounds due to a provision in the state Constitution which specifically prohibits state funds or property from being used to further any religion, church or sect, either directly or indirectly.

Earlier this week, the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma and several other religious and anti-bias organizations sent a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin and several lawmakers asking them to obey the Supreme Court’s ruling.

On Friday, however, Fallin indicated she might the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The Ten Commandments monument was a worthy project and something we should keep on the Capitol grounds. Legislators and supporters of the monument intended it as a tribute to the importance of the Ten Commandments to our history and our system of laws,” the governor said.

After Prince dismissed the lawsuit, the plaintiffs appealed his decision to the Supreme Court. After an initial hearing and without a written explanation, the justices voted 7-2 in June in favor of removing the monument. Pruitt requested a rehearing before the Court, but that was denied.

Pruitt has maintained indirect exposure to religion has been found permissible in other cases under the Constitution’s Article 2, Section 5, which the justices used as their main argument in favor of removing the monument.

“Merely because the Ten Commandments may have some religious significance does not foreclose their historical and legal importance, and the Legislature is not prohibited by Article 2, Section 5 from recognizing its secular significance,” state lawyers wrote in their rehearing request.

After the rehearing request was denied, five of the nine justices provided written opinions to explain their decision. Four of the opinions favored removal and one did not.

Justice Noma Gurich slammed the Oklahoma Legislature and Pruitt for declaring the monument has a secular purpose. The monument was authorized by lawmakers as part of the Ten Commandments Monument Display Act, which reportedly would have a public purpose.

“(It) is a sham secular purpose coming secondary to its obvious religious objective,” Gurich wrote in her concurring opinion.

Justice Steven Taylor 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,” he wrote.

Although the monument will soon come down, the battle over the 10 Commandments is far from over.

Several lawmakers have promised during the next legislative session to introduce a resolution that would allow voters to decide if they want Article 2, Section 5 removed from the Constitution.

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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