Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument must be demolished in 30 days, judge rules

The Ten Commandments monument in OklahomaACLU Oklahoma

Christians value the Ten Commandments as one of their core teachings, but in Oklahoma, a monument in honour of these teachings will have to be torn down soon.

The monument of the Ten Commandments—considered important by Christians and Jews alike—erected on the Oklahoma state capitol grounds will have to be taken down within 30 days after a state district judge affirmed an earlier ruling stating that public space cannot be used to promote any religious belief.

Seventh District Court Judge Thomas Prince released the order on Friday for the removal of the Ten Commandments monument.

The judge junked a motion earlier filed by Attorney General Scott Pruitt asserting that the demolition of the monument will constitute unconstitutional prejudice against religion.

Prince supported a ruling last June by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, who voted 7-2 in favour of removing the monument, which it considered a violation of Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.

This provision prohibits the use of public property to promote a "church denomination or system of 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," the section referred to by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in its ruling stated.

The controversial monument was first conceived by Rep. Mike Ritze in 2009. The construction of the structure got the approval of the Republican-dominated state legislature. Ritze shouldered the cost of putting up the monument, which amounted to more than $1,000—meaning no funds from taxpayers were used in its creation.

In August 2013, however, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma, led by Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists Director Bruce Prescott, questioned the monument before the courts, asserting that its erection on the grounds of the state capitol building was unconstitutional.

Last September, Judge Prince initially ruled that the monument was not just a religious messages but also served a historical purpose. The ACLU, however, brought its appeal before the high court.

After the district court ruling, Pruitt released a statement where he maintained that judges should respect citizens' rights to practice and showcase their religious beliefs.

"The Constitution forbids states from banning all religion from public spaces, and from making churches the ghettos of religion where all manifestations of faith are kept separate from public life. Religious people have an equal right to participate in the public square and to have their contributions to Oklahoma history and society recognised," he said.

Nevertheless, despite his apparent reluctance to go against his own personal conviction, Pruitt deferred to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in ordering the removal of the Ten Commandments monument.