Oklahoma Supreme Court Orders Removal of Ten Commandments from Capitol

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 31, 2015

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Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has reaffirmed an earlier ruling by refusing to allow the state to keep a monument of the 10 Commandments posted outside of the capitol building.  Oklahoma’s Attorney General had hoped the Court would grant a hearing to reconsider its ruling from earlier this summer, however, the Justices held firm and have ordered the state to remove the monument from government property.

Oklahoma Court Rejects Government Sponsorship of 10 Commandments

After several months of motions and hearings, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a decision in late June of 2015 that forbid the continued use of the 10 Commandments as an official monument outside of the state’s capitol building.  The Court determined that the promotion of religious symbols on government property violated Oklahoma’s Constitution which forbids government from spending money on sectarian and religious messages.  Although attorneys for the state argued that the Commandments, which were put up by the legislature in 2012, represented Oklahoma’s history and served a secular purpose, the state Supreme Court rejected that approach by pointing to the religious message the Commandments convey.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice John Reif wrote in his opinion, “The text of the Ten Commandments displayed on the monument begins with the declaration ‘I AM the LORD thy GOD’ … This dominance of the explicit religious message renders the monument ‘operative in an effective way’ for the benefit of the of the Judeo-Christian system of religion…As such, the monument’s display on public property is properly enjoined.”  Justice Reif was joined by six of his colleagues in the 7 – 2 decision who felt that the direct religious commands articulated by the monument exceeded the bounds of historical symbolism and represented a clear sectarian message that is impermissible under Oklahoma’s Constitution.

ACLU legal director Bryan Henderson expressed his pleasure with the ruling on behalf of the organization which initiated the legal challenge against the 10 Commandments.  Henderson acknowledged that the issue was controversial, but said, “Something that is undeniable is that the court is getting this right. The court is following the law.”  Not everyone shares Henderson’s opinion on the ruling, however, as many state legislators have joined with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to condemn the decision and call for a change to the state’s judicial system.

Oklahoma Attorney General Disagrees with Supreme Court’s 10 Commandment Ruling

In a statement issued days after the controversial decision was reaffirmed, Pruitt told supporters that he believed the court “got it wrong” when it decided that publically displaying the 10 Commandments on government property was a violation of the state’s constitution. According to Pruitt, the Commandments were not erected to adopt or advance sectarian religious principals or views, but instead to represent the history of the state.  Because many early Oklahoma settlers were driven and sustained by faith in God and his values, Pruitt argued that the Commandments simply reflect the importance of those values in the creation of the laws of the state.

Several Oklahoma lawmakers shared similar views, and went so far as to call for a drastic overall to a judicial system which, they feel, has engaged in backhanded politics in an effort to subvert the will of the general public who voted for the Ten Commandments monument three years ago.  According to a news release written by Rep. Kevin Calvey (R) and joined by several other conservative representatives, “These Supreme Court justices are nothing more than politicians in black robes, masquerading as objective jurists. This ruling is the court engaging in judicial bullying of the people of Oklahoma, pure and simple. It is time that the people chose jurists.”

Rep. Mike Sanders (R) embraced the call to action by warning, “Our country is under assault from an unelected judiciary that is continuously trying to force cultural change upon us.”  Pointing to last month’s landmark gay marriage ruling and the decision to force removal of the Ten Commandments, Rep. Sanders told his supporters that he and his conservative colleagues “cannot and will not stand for this.”

Ten Commandments Monument to be removed from Oklahoma Statehouse

Despite outcries from the conservative Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma, the Supreme Court’s order to remove the 10 Commandments from the capitol building stands and will be carried out – likely within the next few weeks.  Although some conservatives have expressed optimism that the people of Oklahoma will pass a resolution amending the state’s constitution in order to allow the monument to stay, the time required to organize and officiate will exceed the execution of the Supreme Court’s order.  The monument will likely be moved to private property where it will stay unless Republican legislators in Oklahoma are successful at changing the portion of the state constitution that prohibited its display at the statehouse.

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