Thou Shall Not

Image of theocracy versus constitutional democracy

A court has ruled that a Ten Commandments monument on the Haskell County Courthouse grounds in Stigler violates the U.S. Constitution and that it must be removed.

State Rep. Mike Ritze was quick to point out the decision would not affect the Ten Commandments monument that will soon be installed at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City, but the fact remains clear such monuments here and elsewhere will continue to draw legal challenges.

Ritze, a Broken Arrow Republican and an ordained Southern Baptist Church deacon, sponsored the bill last legislative session allowing a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol. Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill into law.

In the Stigler case, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Ten Commandments monument violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The monument has been on the courthouse grounds since 2004.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Haskell County resident John W. Green brought the lawsuit challenging the legality of the monument.

The ruling dealt with what it saw as the “religious motivation” of Michael Bush, who pushed to erect the monument, which has the Ten Commandments on one side and The Mayflower Compact on the other. (You can read the full ruling here.) The ruling stated:

…the reasonable observer in this case would be aware of the nature and history of the Haskell County community, the circumstances surrounding the Monument’s placement on the courthouse lawn, its precise location on the lawn and its spatial relationship to the other courthouse monuments, and also the Haskell County community’s response to the Monument. In particular, the reasonable observer would be aware of Mr. Bush’s religious motivation for seeking the erection of the Monument. After learning of these motivations, the Board swiftly approved its erection and allowed the project to go forward, despite being aware that there might be adverse legal consequences. And, when those adverse legal consequences did in fact materialize in the form of Mr. Green’s lawsuit, the Board seemingly did not hesitate to stay the course, electing to maintain the Monument without clarifying its purposes in doing so. Further, although the Monument ultimately also was inscribed with the Mayflower Compact, the Board approved the Monument with the understanding that it would be inscribed only with the Ten Commandments.

Here is the Mayflower Compact as it reads on the monument, according to the ruling:

In the name of God, Amen.

We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, ect. [sic], having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northernparts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the 11 of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.

Supporters of the Ten Commandments monument slated for the capitol have been adamant that it doesn’t represent religious intrusion. They say the monument deals with historical aspects of the law and will be patterned after a similar monument displayed at the Texas Capitol in Austin. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Texas monument doesn’t violate the Constitution.

But the Texas monument was installed in 1961 and is just one of several monuments and historical displays throughout the capitol. Will Oklahoma’s new monument fall under the narrow confines of the 2005 court ruling? Will the ACLU file a lawsuit? Should taxpayer money be used to defend the monument?

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Bad Business Models

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Just like General Motors, American newspapers have failed to significantly change their business model as they sink into oblivion, a fact noted in recent years by countless numbers of pundits, journalism professors and business experts.

Tied to dirty and unsustainable production methods--paper, ink, fossil fuel for delivery—most hard-copy newspapers have apparently made the decision to continue to print until their last subscriber dies, shifting resources away from their online sites, which obviously represent their future. Like GM’s fundamental error to build shoddy, gas guzzlers as the world ran out of oil, it’s baffling. It’s no surprise some politicians have begun a discussion about a newspaper bailout.

The new newspaper is online, and it has a leaner and more productive staff. It counts on stringers, citizen journalists and government institutions to provide factual and sometimes mundane facts of our culture, from marriage records to monthly tax revenue reports to school board decisions. It employs enterprise reporters, who have infinite space to produce in-depth stories and then participate in a dialogue with their readers. It uses video, audio, images and interactive graphics to tell stories.

But, more importantly, the new newspaper, if it strives for viability, exposes and excludes the illogical right-wing rhetoric that continues to pervade virtually every media outlet in the country, from Fox News to The Washington Post, from CNN to the Los Angeles Times. Here, again, it becomes GM-like obvious: the shrinking demographics of the Republican Party make the right-wing mantra non-profitable in the future. The neoconservative agenda of former President George Bush was completely repudiated as an utter failure. Why give the agenda’s failed slogans and propaganda more space? Why tie a business model to shrinking demographics and hollow ideology?

One of the nation’s most fraudulent mythologies over the last three or four decades is the right-wing argument that the media actually holds a left-wing bias. It has been repeated so often by right-wing politicians and the right-wing press, media executives probably think this to be true. It isn’t true. Metropolitan newspapers represent the epitome of American capitalism and conservative, authoritarian political views, and every rhetorical aspect of their content reflects this.

All of this brings us to the state’s two largest newspapers, The Oklahoman and The Tulsa World, both of which only serve conservative audiences and continue to frame stories with a right-wing bias. How can they attract new readers to their online sites given the fact they have supported and continue to support some of the nation’s most extreme conservative politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe? Are they self-destructing? How can they attract the loyalty and trust of progressives and centrists as they tacitly support the extreme right-wing agenda? Is it even possible? If not, doesn’t this mean there are opportunities for new centrist online sites in Oklahoma?

One bit of information that muddies the issue is the fact Oklahoma lags behind in Internet use. Only 58 percent of Oklahomans live in a home with access to Internet. The national average is 67 percent. Oklahoma has the fifth lowest rate in the nation. Perhaps the low Internet use means the two newspapers have been slow to capitalize fully on new readership groups compared to the rest of the country, and this will change.

Metropolitan newspapers and their online sites must become more inclusive, support a wide-range of political candidates, reject right-wing extremism and embrace progressive voices, or they will continue to decline financially.

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Oklahoma Economic Recommendations

Image of Kandinsky painting

As the economic downturn continues, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has recommended the state make it easier to tap into its Rainy Day Fund, defer additional tax cuts, find new revenue streams for Medicaid and begin multi-year budget forecasting.

OK Policy made the recommendations in a recent thorough and insightful issue brief about the state’s 2010 fiscal year budget, which begins in July. The state’s revenues have been in a steep decline recently as the national recession finally hit here. As oil and gas prices dropped so did energy tax revenues in Oklahoma. You can read the issue brief here.

The Oklahoma budget was helped this coming year by federal stimulus money. This meant no cuts for education. In response, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Central Oklahoma will not raise tuition this coming fall. But other state agencies did receive cuts, averaging about 7 percent. I recently wrote about the issue here.

The recommendations by OK Policy are prudent and responsible. This is what it suggests about the Rainy Day Fund, which currently has nearly $600 million:

We have now seen that leaders are extremely hesitant to tap the RDF at the onset of a downturn without knowing how bad things will ultimately get. This creates the prospect that we will be facing large shortfalls in FY ’11 and, especially, FY ’12 while most of the Fund remains off-limits. An alternative would be to allow RDF money to be used any time revenues remain below the peak of the current economic cycle. If legislation were introduced next year to put such a proposal on the ballot in 2010, it would create the opportunity to have RDF revenues help us over the post-stimulus hump in FY ’12 and FY ’13.

Gov. Brad Henry and legislative leaders refused to use Rainy Day Fund money to limit budget cuts this coming fiscal year. They argued the money might be needed more urgently later. I see this as a mistake for two reasons: (1) The money would have helped the sinking economy and could prevent problems from snowballing, and (2) the impact on state services and people would have been lessened.

OK Policy also believes tax cuts scheduled to phase in during future years should be stopped until the state is back to the “pre-downturn” budget levels. This only makes sense in a state that has consistently underfunded education at all levels. The state does have access to more stimulus money next year, but what happens after that?

The Medicaid and multi-year budget forecasting issues make sense as well.

If you want a thorough look at Oklahoma’s current budget picture, I recommend you read the brief. OK Policy, a think-tank dedicated to helping all Oklahomans prosper, continues to offer the absolute best external state budget analysis in Oklahoma.

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