Religious Extremism

Ten Commandments Mess Waste Of State Resources

Prominent leaders, such as Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt, continue to agitate for religious intrusion into state government, and the legal cost and damage to Oklahoma’s worldwide image continue to mount.

Now that the Ten Commandments monument has been removed from the state Capitol grounds and installed at the headquarters of the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Fallin is actually urging voters to change the state’s constitution to bring it back.

Yet, even if this were to happen, the monument’s placement on government property would likely still face a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court and even more state taxpayer money would be wasted fighting a lost cause. The U.S. Constitution clearly draws a line between church and state when it comes to such blatant acts of religious intrusion.

Pruitt, of course, was adamant that the Oklahoma Supreme Court made a mistake when it ruled that Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution prohibited the placement of the religious monument at the Capitol.

Pruitt looks ridiculous on this one. Here’s the language to which the high court referred:

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.

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Keating Gets It All Wrong On Blaine

Keating Gala from Flickr The Commons

An op-ed about the Ten Commandments monument controversy by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has an illogical premise and contains distorted historical information.

One question is whether the distortion is deliberate or just based on a basic lack of knowledge about the state’s history, a lack of a careful consideration of logical human behavior and, well, a lack in understanding just how the concept of time works.

The commentary, which basically argues voters should repeal a section of the state’s constitution so the Ten Commandments monument can remain on state Capitol grounds, appeared recently in The Oklahoman. The newspaper’s editorial board has also urged a repeal of the section.

Keating and the newspaper are obviously free to argue for a repeal of Article 2, Section 5 of the constitution, of course, but they should be called out on their faulty logic. Let’s call it what it is: Keating and the newspaper’s editors want an undeniably religious and exclusive monument supporting the Judeo-Christian tradition at the Capitol. They apparently don’t care that if their argument prevails the state will no doubt face an expensive lawsuit at the federal level.

Here’s the language of the constitutional section in question:

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.

In a recent 7-2 ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court argued that the section means the monument must be removed. The court has upheld its ruling. The monument was put up in 2012 and paid for by the family of state Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow and a Southern Baptist ordained deacon and Sunday school teacher.

Ritze and others have made the strained argument that the Ten Commandments monment represents an historic legal framework for Western culture and so that’s why it belongs at the Capitol. They have also said the monument is similar to the one at the Texas state Capitol. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote has ruled that monument can remain in place.

First, the Oklahoma monument is obviously religious. The Ten Commandments come from the Bible. Placing such a monument at the Capitol obviously is in violation of any reasonable reading of Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Second, the Texas case is not at all similar to the issue in Oklahoma. The monument in Texas went legally unchallenged for 40 years thus solidifying a peculiar but specific historical claim to legitimacy, one with which I don’t agree but have to accept. It’s also part of a larger display of other monuments and markers. That isn’t the case in Oklahoma. The motivation for the monument here is singularly religious-based on the Bible and exclusive of other religious and secular traditions and beliefs.

Now some state leaders, along with Keating and The Oklahoman, want voters to repeal Article 2, Section 5 in the constitution. Keating and the newspaper make the argument that the section is based on the failed Blaine Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the late 1800s. Many states adopted similar language in their own constitutions. Some considered the Blaine Amendment to be an anti-Catholic schools measure at the time, but that obscures the issue of the separation of church and state and the issue of providing free public education to all children. Those were two basic intentional concerns of the amendment as well.

Thus, Keating argues:

A second suspect minority that came into the sights of our early Legislature was my faith community, Catholics. About the time that legislative Democrats were passing odious “Jim Crow” laws and attempting to restrict the public use of alcohol so that consumption of wine at the Catholic Mass would be discouraged, Oklahoma’s constitution mirrored those of 34 other states by including a simple proviso intended to retard the further spread of Catholic education and Catholic values.

Keating is entirely wrong. Go back and read the section of the state constitution I cited. It contains no mention of Catholicism. The section has more in common with the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and separation of church and state than any concerted effort to specifically “retard the further spread of Catholic education.” The implicit comparison of Article 2, Section 5 to Jim Crow laws in Keating’s commentary is itself “odious” and repulsive. Just a cursory look of Keating’s biographical history shows he grew up with and has benefited from white privilege. Does he really want us to see him as a victim of discrimination? Keating’s argument also presupposes that those people who put together the state constitution were so dumb and such extreme anti-Catholic bigots they didn’t understand the sweeping nature of the language in Article 2, Section 5, which is simply false. This is actually a tremendous insult to those who met in 1906 to put together the Oklahoma Constitution. Keep in mind, the Blaine Amendment was initially proposed in 1875. That’s a 31-year difference between that event and the initial work on the Oklahoma Constitution. It’s obvious that three decades later the intention and language of the section, no matter what its first roots, would have been completely separate from what was going on in 1875.

But it’s the argument’s overall premise that should really make people cringe. Here’s Keating’s simplistic premise: Article 2, Section 5 was based on discrimination against Catholics and so therefore we should do away with it and allow a religious monument to be erected on the public square under the same right-wing Protestant view that generated such discrimination in the first place. Southern Baptists, in particular, were widely known to be at odds with Catholics in this country until even the 1980s. That’s well established and was even an issue in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Southern Baptists and Catholics now share a right-wing political agenda in this country, officially opposing abortion, for example, so Article 2, Section 5, even if it were initially and entirely based on an anti-Catholic school sentiment, now has actually united the two religious denominations in opposition to it. In other words, Keating’s take on the history of the so-called “Blaine Amendments,” even if it were true, which it isn’t, is no longer applicable. Ritze, a Protestant, and Keating, a Catholic, want the same legal and/or voting outcome. There’s no operative discrimination in place specifically against Catholics because of Article 2, Section 5. How can anyone with Keating’s educational background not understand that?

It’s all enough to make your head hurt if you think too much about Keating’s tortuous argument.

The bottom line is that Keating and the newspaper want an exclusive religious monument at the state Capitol to promote and publicly sanction the Judeo-Christian tradition. That’s the real discrimination going on here.

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The Branch of Defiance

Image of Mary Fallin

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin isn’t generally known for possessing brilliant oratory skills or known for making witty and resonating off-the-cuff remarks to the press, but that held true for her Democratic predecessor Gov. Brad Henry.

Maybe a majority of Oklahoman voters just don’t trust slick talkers. Certainly, there’s a lot of distrust here for President Barack Obama, one of the best orators ever elected to political office. The use of soaring rhetoric and ironic, witty retorts, the result of intellectual insight and practice, must be an anathema to the down-home spinners here.

Given all that, it didn’t surprise me in the least that Fallin supposedly fumbled her way verbally through an attempt to defend the Ten Commandments monument, which still stands on state Capitol grounds despite the recent 7-2 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that it must be removed.

The media made a big deal about Fallin’s definition of the three branches of government when she talked to reporters about supporting the monument recently. This is really just a side issue to what she was trying to say, and I’m fairly certain the college-educated Fallin knows the three branches of government include the executive, legislative and judicial. Here’s the Fallin quote that caused the media storm:

You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.

I’m not the first to point this out, but the so-called gaffe (or, really, was it a gaffe?) is far less important than a governor openly ignoring a court ruling so people can decide to impose their religious beliefs on other people. The judicial branch of government was established, among other things, to prevent such occurrences. The rule of law prevents the rule of mob and tyranny over minorities.

Fallin’s specific point seems to be that she wants the legislature to create a ballot title so voters can repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution in a general election. That section 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.

At this point, I’ve written about this section and the ruling so much I’m losing some interest in its legal and historical specifics. Here’s my last post on the issue. Here’s the one before that. The court’s ruling, it should be noted, is not at all controversial in any legal sense. Read the section. Note that the Ten Commandments monument is currently on public property.

What everyone should be concerned with, however, is that Fallin has NOT ordered the monument removed and is acting defiantly against the basic rule of law. Even if Oklahoma voters eventually vote to repeal the section, which is a reasonable expectation, then the monument should be removed until they do so. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has essentially asked the court to reconsider the decision, but the 7 to 2 vote represents a solid majority.

Both Fallin and Pruitt probably also know, along with their three branches of government, that there’s still constitutional arguments to be made on the state level against the public location of the monument beyond the use of Article 2, Section 5, or at least I think so. There’s also the federal court system as well, the overall issue of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment. It’s highly unlikely the American Civil Liberties Union will give up on the case if the state constitutional section is repealed. This case is going to go on.

I have a deep appreciation for the historical civil disobedience practiced peacefully by Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers during the civil rights movement, but the Ten Commandments monument case doesn’t begin to rise to this level. The vast majority of people in Oklahoma have broad access to the Ten Commandments. It’s in the Bible. It can be found on the Internet. Study it. Promote it. Talk about it in Sunday School classes. The monument’s public location isn’t a matter of a violation of rights or an action for equality, precepts guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The monument is a stone with some words on it put up in 2012 and paid for by the family of state Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow and a Southern Baptist ordained deacon and Sunday School teacher. Put up the monument on some private property. Allow people to view it. I would bet most people against the monument’s public location wouldn’t mind or care. I certainly wouldn’t care. But Fallin should comply with the court ruling and get it off state property.

The lesson taught here is not that our governor doesn’t even know the three branches of government, which she most likely does, but that it’s okay to ignore the rule of law and the judicial branch of government. Ignoring the rule of law in this case is not heroic civil disobedience. This is about publicly privileging Judeo-Christian religious edicts above other religions and people without religious affiliations. It’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state.

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