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Ten Commandments Monument Removed From Oklahoma Capitol Grounds Late Monday Night

Fencing surrounds the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in preparation for removal of the marker.
Dale Denwalt
The Journal Record
Fencing surrounds the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in preparation for removal of the marker.

Late Monday night workers removed the Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the state Capitol, satisfying a ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In June, the state’s highest civil court decided the privately funded display on the north side of the building violates a section of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibiting the use of state property to endorse a specific religion.

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.

State Rep. Mike Ritze’s family donated $10,000 for the construction of the monument that was unveiled in 2012 and challenged in 2013. It was destroyed last year when a mentally ill man crashed his car into the display.

The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt watched workers remove the monument starting at about 10:30 p.m. Wilbert Memorials, the same company that erected the monument, used a heavy crane to remove it:

The removal timeline was a closely guarded secret until just a few hours before construction crews began cutting into concrete and rebar at the base of the 6-foot-tall, 4,800-pound granite marker that was ordered off state property by Oklahoma’s Supreme Court. A handful of reporters were notified Monday afternoon and allowed to witness its removal. . . . Monday night’s operation happened in near-secrecy because of tensions surrounding the removal. John Estus, spokesman for the state agency charged with logistics of the move, said officials with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol were concerned about disturbances because of the highly controversial move. OHP troopers were stationed at the monument since Friday, the Associated Press reported.

The Office of Management and Enterprises Services said the state paid Wilbert Memorials $4,700 for the operation. Spokesman John Estus said it’s now on loan to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The conservative think tank plans to display the six-foot-tall granite monument outside its office on Lincoln Blvd. nine blocks south of the Capitol.

A few opponents of the move did show up to voice their displeasure, including former Oklahoma City Republican state Rep. Mike Reynolds, according to eCapitol’sShawn Ashley:

Reynolds called the monument's removal historic and said it showed how the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to abide by the state constitution and ignored the will of the public. "I would like to see some of them voted out," he said, referring to next year's retention ballot for appellate judges and justices. "Now, we know we need to change the Constitution and get rid of one of the articles that was in it originally," Reynolds added. "I think we have the public support to do just that."

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.

The protester who showed up Monday night was identified by Ashley as Yukon resident Jessie Dennis:

"Am I the only one in Oklahoma to come down here and say anything about this?" he asked as members of the media, Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers, Estus, Reynolds a few others watched as workers sawed into the monument's base. "The devil," he added, "does his work in the dark."

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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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