District Judge Thomas Prince ruled on September 19 that the privately funded Ten Commandments structure at the Oklahoma Capitol could continue to stay there, as it does not violate the state’s constitution. The ruling came almost a year after attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission with the state Supreme Court.
After the religious structure was erected on the capitol grounds in 2012, other religious groups including a satanic group proposed ideas for their own structures at the same spot, saying if Christians could have their own monument, so could they. None of the other group’s proposals have been accepted as yet.
Prince disagreed with ACLU’s stand on the matter, saying the Ten Commandments structure is secular, not religious and stands on a small plot of land that is part of a 100-acre complex, where one can see 51 other similar monuments.
“The Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is constitutional because of its historical value,” said Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who pointed out the United States Supreme Court had ruled in June 2005 that a nearly identical monument at the Texas state Capitol was also constitutional.
ACLU legal director Brady Henderson said Prince’s decision would be appealed at the state Supreme Court within the next 30 days.
“Everyone involved knew today wasn't going to be the last word in this case,” said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma's executive director.
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In an enthusiastic gesture to flaunt their secularism, conservatives in Oklahoma unwittingly opened their door to different religious groups which has led to Satanists seeking a statue of their own, right next to a Christian monument outside the Statehouse.
Oklahoma is regarded as the center of the Bible belt and it is run by a Republican legislature. The administration authorized a Christian monument to be built with the help of private funds in 2009. In 2012, the monument called “Ten Commandments” was placed on the Capitol grounds despite criticism from legal experts who debated over its constitutionality. The American Civil Liberties Union Oklahoma chapter also filed a lawsuit stating that the monument must be removed.
Seeing an opportunity in this turn of events, the Satanic Temple in New York notified the Preservation Commission in the state’s Capitol about its interest in building a monument and said that it would submit a suitable design within a month.
“We believe that all monuments should be in good taste and consistent with community standards. Our proposed monument, as homage to the historic/literary Satan, will certainly abide by these guidelines,” said Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for the temple. While speaking to USA Today, he elaborated that two designs had been shortlisted and if approved by Oklahoma state officials, the monument, costing $20,000, would be installed.
Republican state representative Mike Ritze, who was in the forefront of the installation of the Ten Commandments and whose family also paid $10,000 for its construction, refused to comment on the Satanic Temple’s proposal, but Greaves appreciated his willingness to hear the group out.
“He is helping a satanic agenda grow more than any of us possibly could. You don't walk around and see too many satanic temples around but when you open the door for us, that’s when you're going to see us,” said Greaves.
In the past, the Oklahoma legislature has adopted a few measures to blur the line that separates church and state. According to Republican house speaker Bobby Cleveland, the legislature plans to build a chapel inside the Capitol where Oklahoma’s Judeo-Christian heritage can be celebrated. Legal experts have also voiced their support for public schools being allowed to stage nativity scenes and other religious expressions. While sharing his desire to introduce such a bill in 2014, Cleveland however dismissed the idea of Satanists installing a monument at the Capitol.
“I think these Satanists are a different group, you put them under the nut category,” he said.
According to legal director of ACLU Oklahoma, Brady Henderson said that if the state allows one religious group to express itself, they must allow all religious groups to do the same. He also suggested that it is best to disallow all religious groups from expressing themselves on state property.
“We prefer to see Oklahoma's government officials work to faithfully serve our communities and improve the lives of Oklahomans instead of erecting granite monuments to show us how righteous they are. But if the Ten Commandments, with its overtly Christian message, is allowed to stay at the Capitol, then the Satanic Temple's proposed monument cannot be rejected because of its different religious viewpoint,” said Henderson.
A week after the Satanic Temple expressed its desire to erect a monument right next to the Ten Commandments monument outside the state Capitol, a Hindu group has followed in its footsteps. In a press release sent out by activist Rajan Zed on December 10, the Universal Society of Hinduism is said to be seeking a “weather-proof” statue of Lord Hanuman at the same spot. Zed stated that he had already written to the Preservation Commission enquiring about the required forms and detailed procedure for the same.
With all these developments since the conservatives opened their door to different religious groups, the Commission may find itself in a tight spot. If they agree to the proposals, the conservatives will flip out and it they say no, they will probably be bulldozed with lawsuits.
Speaking to Tulsa World’s reporter Bill Sherman, Commission Chairman Trait Thompson said the lawmakers in the state brought this upon themselves. “If they wanted a Christian monument, they should’ve known that others would ask for representation of their religious beliefs, too. I guess they didn’t anticipate that the requests would come from normally silent groups,” he said.
I do rather love this. You see, I have Christians tell me all the time, with issues such as prayer in public schools, that they would be just fine with all religions being on open display in the way they want theirs to be.
Well Christians... here's your chance to prove it.
The recent IHEU report's worry about US laws tying being "American" with Christian is brought into perspective here. Are Satanists, Hindus, etc., entitled to seek their monument, not merely as religious groups, but as Americans at their statehouse?