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AG Pruitt upset over Ten Commandments ruling; threatens to repeal Constitution

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
The All-Seeing Eye and the Ten Commandments must be removed, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled.
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Oklahoma Supreme Court says placement of monument at Capitol violates state Constitution

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt made a “direct assault” on people of faith by threatening to lead a movement to repeal a section of the state Constitution.

Pruitt’s comment came in the wake of a stinging defeat at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 that the Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds must come down.

The Court based its decision on Article 2, Section 5 of the Constitution, which restricts public money or property from being used, directly or indirectly, for any religious use or purpose.

That left Pruitt upset, claiming the Supreme Court “got it wrong.” Pruitt argued the monument was constructed for historical purposes, much like the monument placed at the Texas State Capitol.

At the end of his statement, the attorney general said, “If Article 2, Section 5, is going to be construed in such a manner by the court, it will be necessary to repeal it.”

Repealing the state Constitution would require a vote of the people.

When informed of Pruitt’s comment, Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, took offense.

“That is a direct assault on individuals and how they arrive at their own beliefs,” he said. “The Framers of our country realized how divisive religion can be for political purposes. All of this (Ten Commandments controversy) began when politicians began to exploit the beliefs of people by introducing legislation and putting it up for a vote.”

Legislators authorized the monument in 2009.

State Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City) said Pruitt should “take a basic course in constitutional law.”

“Attorney General Pruitt needs to spend his time being the top legal authority in Oklahoma and quit playing politics,” he said.

Pruitt is considered by political insiders to be a top candidate for governor in 2018.

In his prepared statement, the attorney general announced he will file a petition with the Court for a rehearing “in light of the broader implications of this ruling on other areas of state law.” Pruitt also claims the decision contradicts previous Supreme Court rulings.

In this ruling, the Court’s majority opinion states, “In authorizing its placement, the Legislature apparently believed that there would be no legal impediment to placing the monument on the Capitol grounds so long as the text was the same as the text displayed on the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol and a non-religious historic purpose was given for the placement of the monument.”

The Court also highlighted the single, most important difference in the two cases. The Texas monument did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. However, the Oklahoma monument did violate the state Constitution.

“Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence,” the Court wrote. “As concerns the ‘historical purpose’ justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”

The six-foot-tall stone monument was installed in 2012 and paid for with private money from state Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow). Ritze and his family paid about $10,000 for the monument’s construction.

Still, it prompted complaints that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s provisions against government establishing a religion. Since then, other groups, some without any merit, applied for permission to erect their own monuments on Capitol grounds to mark their own version of historical events. Two of the groups involved Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The original monument was destroyed in October 2014 when a 29-year-old man drove his car across the Capitol lawn and smashed into it. He was treated the next day and was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment after making a threat toward President Barack Obama.

The Ten Commandments case was filed in 2013 by a Baptist minister and several other citizens. Rev. Bruce Prescott, the lead plaintiff in Prescott et al v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, was pleased with the Court’s decision.

“Religious people should rejoice that despite the state’s argument to the contrary, the Court made clear that the Ten Commandments Monument is obviously religious in nature, and not merely a secular historical artifact,” he said.

Brady Henderson, ACLU Oklahoma legal director, said Oklahoma’s founders understood that religious choices should not be made by the government.

“Today’s decision is a victory for all Oklahomans who value the simple freedom to come to their own conclusions about matters of conscience,” he said in a prepared statement. “The Court’s ruling affirms the time-honored idea that my faith is a relationship between me and God, not me, God and my local government.”

Kiesel contends the monument sent a message to some Oklahomans that they are less equal because of their religious beliefs.

“Today the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognizes that when the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it is an affront to one of the most fundamental protections of the Oklahoma Constitution, namely that all Oklahomans, regardless of the beliefs, stand before their government as equals,” he said.

A district court trial judge in March dismissed a separate case filed by an atheist group seeking to remove the monument, saying the plaintiffs failed to show standing to bring the lawsuit.

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Tim Farley

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