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Wednesday, June 28th, 2017Last Update: Thursday, May 4th, 2017 02:03:55 PM

Ten Commandments Monument Moves to OCPA

By: Constitution Staff

The Ten Commandments monument was removed from the Oklahoma State Capitol to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) campus, located on private property ten blocks south of the capitol complex in the wee hours of the morning on October 6. OCPA is a conservative public policy research organization that focuses on state-based issues from a perspective of limited government, individual liberty and a free-market economy. The relocation was orchestrated without advance warning and under the cover of darkness to avoid possible public protests.

In a 7-2 decision on June 30, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the monument to be removed from the Capitol grounds saying the Oklahoma Constitution prohibited the state from displaying it. The state high court returned the case to Oklahoma County District Judge Thomas Prince who had ruled last year that the monument could stay. On September 11, Judge Prince issued an order giving state officials until October 12 to take down the 6-foot-tall granite monument. Prince issued the ruling after denying a motion filed by Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office alleging that the Oklahoma Supreme Court's June 30 order to remove the monument expressed an unconstitutional hostility toward religion.

The Capitol Preservation Commission, which was named as a defendant in the lawsuit seeking the monument's removal, voted to authorize the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to remove the one-ton granite monument. The commission, which oversees the grounds at the statehouse, voted 7-1 on September 29 to authorize the monument's removal.

The action of the state's high court, in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of three plaintiffs, has caused a storm of protest in the Sooner state, with legislators calling for the impeachment of the seven justices who ruled against the monument. While Oklahoma is now a solidly a Republican state, with the Republicans in control of both chambers of the legislature and the executive branch, eight of the judges were appointed by liberal Democrat governors.

Article 2, Section 5, of the state constitution was cited by the high court in its controversial decision. Critics of that section of the state constitution contend that it is a version of the so-called Blaine Amendment, enacted in 1875, out of concern over the rising tide of Roman Catholic immigration into the country. Congressman James G. Blaine authored the amendment, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives 180-7, but failed the required two-third vote in the Senate. However, many states opted to include a version of the "Blaine Amendment" in their state constitutions. Oklahoma, which entered the Union in 1907, was one of what eventually included 38 states which incorporated some variation of the wording in their fundamental law.

Actually, the portion of the state constitution is worded somewhat differently from the proposal by Blaine. The actual Blaine Amendment was much more explicit in its requirement that no state monies be used for religious schools. The Blaine Amendment stated that "no money raised by taxation in any state for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, not shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations." This wording is not found in Article 2, Section 5, of Oklahoma's Constitution, but even under the wording of the original Blaine Amendment, it is difficult to grasp how the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded the monument violated the state constitution.

Oklahoma's version of the Blaine Amendment reads, "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 ACLU contended, and the court agreed, that the placement of a monument to the Ten Commandments violates this wording.

The monument, installed in November 2012, displays the text of the Ten Commandments and also includes three symbols: the Eye of Providence (also known as the all-seeing eye of God) that denotes the holy trinity, a Chi-Rho (two Greek letters that form a monogram for Christ) and two Stars of David. The monument was paid for with $10,000 donated by state Representative Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) and his family, plus another $10,000 raised privately. The monument is modeled after the Ten Commandments Monument displayed outside the Texas state Capitol. In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court held that identical Ten Commandments monument to be constitutional in Van Orden v. Perry. The monument was erected in 2012 after a bill by Ritze bill passed the Republican-controlled legislature, and was signed into law by then-Governor Brad Henry, a Democrat.

Just one year after it was erected, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and the national ACLU filed suit on behalf of several Oklahomans challenging the constitutionality of the monument. "The monument's placement at the Capitol has created a more divisive and hostile state for many Oklahomans," said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma's Executive Director. "When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal."

The case is Prescott v. Okla. Capitol Preservation Commission, Oklahoma County. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Bruce Prescott of Norman, is an ordained Baptist minister and theologian. He is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. Other plaintiffs in the case include Jim Huff, a former educator from Oklahoma City, retired businessman Donald Chabot, also of Oklahoma City, and former social studies teacher Cheryl Franklin, of Enid. The lead plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, Bruce Prescott of Norman, is an ordained Baptist minister, and the executive director of a liberal group which calls itself Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. Prescott used to have a weekly radio program in Oklahoma, supposedly of a Christian bent, but he usually promoted liberal political views, instead, and once provided a forum for an avowed witch. The ACLU's suit contended that the monument allowed the state government "to use its vast power and influence to tell you what you should believe."

It is expected that the Oklahoma Legislature will take action to address the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling by amending the state Constitution. Judicial reform measures have also been discussed for several years concerning how the justices are selected and support is now growing for some of those proposals.

State Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon) has filed a constitutional amendment for the 2016 legislative session to remove the language that formed the basis for the high court ruling. House Joint Resolution 1036 would place a constitutional amendment to a statewide vote to remove the cited portion of the Oklahoma Constitution . "After reviewing the Supreme Court's Ten Commandments ruling , it is clear that we have a toxic provision in our state Constitution," said Jordan. "It was written with discrimination in mind, and like a malignant tumor, needs to be removed completely. I am under the opinion the court's strict interpretation of the language of Article 2, Section V could have far reaching implications. It could possibly lead to the Native American artwork in the Capitol and State Supreme Court buildings being removed as much of it is religious in nature. In addition, it could lead to individuals on state funded insurance programs being unable to receive medical care as a large portion of hospitals in Oklahoma are supported by a religious affiliation."

Governor Mary Fallin, Rep. Ritze and the OCPA announced the relocation of the monument on the morning following the move. Fallin thanked OCPA for housing the monument and said she would work with lawmakers to put a Constitutional change to a vote of the people, allowing the monument to eventually return to the Capitol.

"My thanks go out to OCPA for providing a temporary home for the Ten Commandments Monument that is easily accessible to those visiting the State Capitol," said Fallin. "Moving forward, I believe the people of Oklahoma should have the opportunity to vote on a proposed Constitutional change to ensure that historical monuments like this one are not pushed out of public spaces. I strongly encourage lawmakers to take up this issue in the next legislative session." Fallin also offered thanks to Rep. Ritze.

Ritze said he would continue the push to bring it back to the Capitol by repealing the Blaine Amendment. "I am pleased to allow the monument to remain near the Capitol at this time as a symbol of our work to repeal the Blaine Amendment," said Ritze. "This monument is identical to many others upheld as constitutional by courts across the country, including the United States Supreme Court, and we will focus our efforts on restoring the monument to its rightful place."

"OCPA has been committed to providing solutions to make Oklahoma a better state for more than 22 years," said Michael Carnuccio, president of OCPA. "Typically, we do so with fact-based research and ideas rooted in free enterprise and the rule of law. Today, however, we are pleased to provide a home for the monument while lawmakers pursue legislative solutions that allow it to be returned to the Capitol grounds."

Carnuccio said his organization disagrees with the court's ruling and that the monument can be legally and constitutionally displayed at the state capitol. "The state needs to repeal the Blaine Amendment, and we will work towards that goal." He said the organization would continue to support Governor Fallin and other elected state leaders as they work to rectify the court's decision. Of course, if the Blaine Amendment has been misinterpreted, and the monument can legally and constitutionally be displayed at the capitol, under its present wording, one political observer noted, then why does it need to be repealed?

But, state Representative David Perryman (D-Chickasha) is taking exception to the movement inspired by the removal of the Ten Commandments monument. He charges that the real purpose of repealing Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution isn't as it seems. He believes groups like OCPA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and are supporting the repeal so it would be possible to divert public education money to private, religious schools. "We often hear about "unintended consequences.' Today, theses "great and powerful' groups are speaking and their agenda is one of "intended consequences.'"

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