Ten Commandments monument spurs controversy in Oklahoma

The American Civil Liberties Union is considering challenging the placement of a Ten Commandments monument near the Oklahoma state Capitol, said the executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU.

The 6-foot-tall granite block was installed Nov. 9 on the lawn of the Capitol building in Oklahoma City, funded by the family of state Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow). The installation of the monument was authorized by a bill introduced by Ritze in 2009.

“The placing of a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol would help the people of the United States and of Oklahoma to know the Ten Commandments as the moral foundation of law,” reads the bill. “The placement of this monument shall not be construed to mean that the State of Oklahoma favors any particular religion or denomination thereof over others.”

Ritze characterized the installation of the monument as a tribute to Oklahoma’s cultural heritage, stating in a House press release that the Ten Commandments were “the historical foundation of modern law.”

Multiple misspellings were found in the text on the monument shortly after it was erected. The errors were subsequently corrected.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secularist activism group, said, “Bible edicts have no business on government property.” She continued, “There is no country where there is a greater freedom of religion or where churches have taken greater advantage of it.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is communicating with the ACLU about the possibility of taking legal action to get the monument removed, said Gaylor. There is a strong legal precedent for the removal of religious monuments from the lawns of government buildings. In
2009, the ACLU obtained a ruling against the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the Haskell County courthouse in Stigler, Okla., on the grounds that it constituted an official endorsement of religion.

Some states have addressed this issue by permitting members of all religious groups to install monuments on those states’ Capitol or courthouse lawns, a solution hinted at in the text of Ritze’s bill. However, Gaylor says such a solution would be inadequate because it could crowd the Capitol lawn and open the monuments of marginalized religions like Islam to vandalism.

“The monument must be removed,” said Gaylor. “The First Commandment is the antithesis of the First Amendment.” The First Commandment declares the supremacy of the Biblical God.

Plans to erect a similar Ten Commandments monument at the LeFlore County courthouse in Poteau, Okla., have been postponed until the legality of the Oklahoma state Capitol monument is resolved, Lance Smith, county commissioner, told the Tulsa World.

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