Commandments ruling: Oklahoma Supreme Court Commandments

Published: July 1, 2015

Commandments ruling: Oklahoma Supreme Court Commandments, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the state must remove its Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol because it violates the state Constitution, which bans using public property for the benefit of a religion.

In a 7-2 decision, justices found that the statue violated Article 2, Section 5 of the state’s Constitution, which says: “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 justices ruled that “the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.” The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU of Oklahoma on behalf of four plaintiffs. An Oklahoma County judge ruled last September that the monument could stay in place.

“I think that at the end of the day it is the right decision simply because it acknowledges limits on the government’s power to effectively decide what religious edicts are right and wrong,” said Brady Anderson, the legal director for ACLU of Oklahoma, according to the Tulsa World.

A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin reacted with disappointment.

“Gov. Fallin is disappointed with the court’s opinion that a privately funded monument acknowledging the historical importance of the Ten Commandments is not allowed on Capitol grounds,” spokesman Alex Weintz said, according to the World’s report. “She will consult with the attorney general to evaluate the state’s legal options moving forward.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt vowed to file a petition for a rehearing, saying that “the court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law,” according to local reports.

Before the statue was installed in 2012 as a gift from Republican state lawmaker Mike Ritze and his family, legislators argued that it was not religious, but historic. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a similar monument in Texas did not violate the establishment clause because it was intended to convey a historic and social meaning and did not constitute a religious endorsement.

The 6-foot-tall monument’s installation prompted other groups, from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to Satanists, to try to get permission to build their own monuments on the grounds of the state Capitol to mark what they also characterize as historical events.

The marker was replaced in January after a man drove across the Capitol lawn and smashed it with his car last October, telling officers that Satan made him do it. In March, a judge dismissed a case from an atheist group that wanted to remove the marker, saying that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case.

“From the start, we expected this case would likely go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Mike Reynolds, a former state lawmaker who helped replace the marker, in a statement to local media.

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