OKLAHOMA CITY — If allowed to stand, an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling banning a privately-funded Ten Commandments display on the state capitol grounds could lead to the removal of similar displays across America, a free speech advocacy group has argued.
Despite the Oklahoma high court’s ruling, Gov. Mary Fallin said a six-foot, granite Ten Commandments monument will remain at the capitol while Attorney General Scott Pruitt files an appeal and state legislators consider a measure to let Oklahoma residents vote on striking an amendment from the state constitution cited by justices as rationale for ordering the commandments removed.
The American Center for Law and Justice warned in a news release that at least 36 other states have adopted similar constitutional amendments and could be liable to lawsuits challenging their Ten Commandments’ displays.
“The Oklahoma Court’s decision could (and likely will) be used as persuasive authority to essentially circumvent the United States Supreme Court’s hard-fought First Amendment decisions,” a July 9 ACLJ statement said. “In other words, the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s novel interpretation” of the amendment “could jeopardize the display of privately donated monuments with religious text or symbols across the county even where the United States Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence has allowed such displays.”
The Oklahoma amendment in question states, “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 court ruled the Ten Commandments display violates the ban of public money or land being used to benefit a religion.
Fallin, a Republican, said in justifying her decision to let the monument remain for now, “Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions. However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government.”
While the executive branch appeals the ruling, the legislative branch will work to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot possibly before the November 2016 elections, the Tulsa World reported.
Fallin noted the monument “is a privately funded tribute to historical events, not a taxpayer funded endorsement of any religion, as some have alleged.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court said its June 30 ruling was made “with no regard to federal jurisprudence” regarding the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, told the Tulsa World he believes the Ten Commandments monument is protected under the federal constitution.
In the past decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed some Ten Commandments displays on government property while prohibiting others. In separate 2005 rulings, for example, the court permitted a six-foot Ten Commandments monument at the Texas capitol but ruled framed copies of the Ten Commandments at two Kentucky courthouses were unconstitutional.
In 2003, Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was removed from office after refusing to comply with a federal judge’s order to remove a Ten Commandments display from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was elected chief justice for a second time in 2012.