Ten Commandments monument to stay on Oklahoma Capitol for now, says governor

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says the state Supreme Court "got it wrong" when it ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments monument.Reuters

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds that was ordered removed by the state Supreme Court will remain for now as appeal and constitutional amendment are worked out.

"During this process, which will involve both legal appeals and potential legislative and constitutional changes, the Ten Commandments monument will remain on the Capitol grounds," Fallin said in a statement posted on the governor's website.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court, in a decision last June 30, said the monument should be removed as it violated Oklahoma Constitution's Article 2 Section 5 that states that "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 lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma on behalf of Baptist minister Rev. Bruce Prescott and other citizens.

Prescott praised the decision, saying "Religious people should rejoice that despite the state's argument to the contrary, the Court made clear that the Ten Commandments Monument is obviously religious in nature, and not merely a secular historical artifact."

Director Daniel Mach of ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief said the ruling "is a win for religious liberty."

"It's an important reminder that the state simply has no business telling its citizens how to worship or what to believe," he said.

But Fallin said the "court got it wrong."

"Nevertheless, Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we cannot ignore judicial rulings. We are, however, also a state with three co-equal branches of government," she said.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has filed a petition to appeal the ruling.

"Additionally, our Legislature has signalled its support for pursuing changes to our state Constitution that would ensure the Ten Commandments monument is legally permissible. If their efforts are successful, the people of Oklahoma will get to vote on the issue," Fallin said.

At the Oklahoma State Legislature, State Rep. John Paul Jordan filed House Joint Resolution 1036 to amend the state 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, a Republican.

He said the provision "was written with discrimination in mind, and like a malignant tumour, needs to be removed completely."

"Taken to an extreme it could even lead to churches, synagogues, mosques and other buildings used for religious purposes being unable to receive police and fire protection as they would be directly or indirectly benefitting from public monies," he said.

Rep. Mike Ritze, who donated the monument in 2012 and authored its legislation, said the Ten Commandments monument is a historic national treasure.

"They are symbolic of our system of law and our American principles. The history is clear about the roots of our nation and our legal system," he said.

Voters will eventually decide on whether to approve the amendment or not in a referendum.

The legislature will hold its second regular session on Feb. 1 next year.