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?