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Oklahoma's Ten Commandments Monument To Stay Put During Legal, Legislative Challenge

Ryan LaCroix
Oklahoma Public Media Exchange
Ryan LaCroix

The controversial Ten Commandments monument will stay on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol during the legal process challenging whether or not it’s constitutional.

Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday she supports Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s petition requesting a rehearing before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in the case. Fallin called the high court’s decision last month to remove the monument “deeply disturbing.”

“The Ten Commandments monument was built to recognize and honor the historical significance of the Commandments in our state’s and nation’s systems of laws,” Fallin said in a statement. “The monument was built and maintained with private dollars. It is virtually identical to a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol which the United States Supreme Court ruled to be permissible.”

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of that monument in Austin. But in a concurring opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer noted the Texas monument was donated by a private, secular civic group, and stood for 40 years before anyone questioned its constitutionality.

State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) donated the funds for Oklahoma’s monument that was unveiled in 2012 and challenged in 2013. It was even destroyed last year when a mentally ill man crashed his car into the display.

Article II, Section 5 of Oklahoma’s constitution states no public money or land will go toward anything that promotes a specific religion. Several state lawmakers say the Oklahoma Supreme Court misinterpreted the statute, and called for the impeachment of the justices who voted in favor of the 7-2 decisions.

A group of lawmakers also plans to file legislation repealing that section of the constitution, but that could take at least a year. The legislative session doesn't begin until February, and Oklahoma voters would have to approve any amendment to the state constitution. The earliest opportunity would come in November 2016.

Fallin says she does not intend to ignore the state courts or their decisions, but her spokesman Alex Weintz told the Associated Press she wants Oklahoma's two other co-equal branches of government "a chance to weigh in on the issue."

In 2009, Oklahoma Republican Party chairman Randy Brogdon introduced legislation to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds. It passed both chambers and was signed by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry before the Supreme Court struck it down.

Brogdon said in a blog post Tuesday the seven justices ignored the language of the state Constitution, since no religious institution benefits from the monument.

“The Ten Commandments are as historically important to our system of government as is the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the Articles of Confederation and The Declaration of Independence,” Brogdon said. “The Oklahoma Supreme Court does not have the authority to change the historical significance of our basis of law as outlined in the Ten Commandments.  Nor do they have the right to change the will of the people.  But the people do have the right to change members on the court.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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