The Peculiar Reason The Oklahoma Governor Is Refusing To Remove The Ten Commandments Statue


oklahoma 10 commandments

Oklahoma’s governor is delaying the removal of a statue commemorating the biblical Ten Commandments from statehouse grounds, offering a direct challenge to a recent ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court demanding it be taken off government property because it violates the state law regarding the separation of church and state.

On Tuesday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) published both a press release and a blog post about the stone monument, saying judges “got it wrong” when they issued a 7-2 decision last week insisting the government refrain from privileging one religion over others on public property.

“It is a privately funded tribute to historical events, not a taxpayer funded endorsement of any religion, as some have alleged,” Fallin said of the statue in a press release. “At this time, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, with my support, has filed a petition requesting a rehearing of the Ten Commandments case.”

Fallin also pointed out that the state of Texas has a virtually identical monument to the Ten Commandments in front of their State Capitol, which the U.S. Supreme Court deemed permissible in 2005 when it ruled on Van Orden v. Perry. At the time, the Court argued that the statue was more historical than religious, meaning that it didn’t violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits state-sanctioned support for one religion at the expense of others. This Perry ruling was cited when County District Judge Thomas Prince initially dismissed the Oklahoma case earlier this year.

When the American Civil Liberties Union brought the issue of Oklahoma’s statue before the state’s Supreme Court, however, the judges noted that the question at play wasn’t whether or not the stone monument violated the U.S. Constitution, but whether it violated the State’s constitution. To that end, they pointed to article 2, section five of Oklahoma’s Bill of Rights, which 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 judges insisted that the Ten Commandments were clearly uniquely special to a select few faiths, and thus shouldn’t be taking up space on public grounds.

“The Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths,” the ruling read.

The statue, which was erected in 2012, has stoked controversy since its inception. When initial efforts to remove it proved unsuccessful, a group calling itself the Satanic Temple applied for a permit to install another a sculpture of a Baphomet, a goat-headed deity often used to represent Satan, on statehouse grounds. The group — which is more closely tied to secular humanism than religious Satanism — announced it would abandon its plans after the court issued its decision last week, but the Governor’s actions might keep the idea alive.

The monument has also been replaced at least once: In 2014, a man damaged the statue by slamming into it with a car, claiming that Satan told him to destroy it and urinate on the broken remains.

Other states have engaged in similar discussions over whether or not to display publicly the laws handed down to Moses by God in the biblical Exodus story — especially in Alabama. In the early 2000s, an Alabama state Supreme Court judge was forcibly removed from office when he refused to abide by a higher court ruling the required the removal of a stone monument to the Ten Commandments from a rotunda in the Alabama Judicial Building. The issue reappeared in 2014, when a county commissioner expressed a desire to erect a stone statue of the Ten Commandments in front of a county courthouse. State lawmakers also debated a so-called “Ten Commandments Bill” last February, and Arkansas okayed the erection of a Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds earlier this year, sparking a blitz of rival proposals to create statues to commemorate Hindu gods, Veganism, and Satan in the same space.


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress