By Bob Allen
An Oklahoma judge gave the state 30 days to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state capitol grounds in a lawsuit filed by a Baptist minister.
Bruce Prescott, an ordained Baptist minister and former executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, sued the state in 2013 seeking removal of a 6-foot-tall stone monument authorized by state lawmakers in 2009.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled June 30 that the monument, paid for with private funds, violated a prohibition in the state constitution against using public money or property to support a particular religion.
On July 27 the high court denied a request for rehearing by Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Pruitt then filed a brief with Oklahoma County Judge Thomas Prince, asking the trial judge to consider if the state Supreme Court ruling “creates hostility toward religion that violates the U.S. Constitution.”
Prince, who initially sided with the state, said during Friday’s hearing that he has a duty to follow the Supreme Court order.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement he was “very pleased” with the district court’s order.
“Our work on behalf of our plaintiffs in this case will benefit Oklahomans of all faiths and those of no faith at all by reaffirming the long held principles that have ensured that our state and nation are places in which matters of faith are determined by individuals and not their government,” Kiesel said.
The state Supreme Court refused to apply a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the placement of a similar monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, finding the issue lies with the Oklahoma constitution rather than the federal Bill of Rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that as a historical monument the Texas Ten Commandments display served a secular purpose. Prescott said in his lawsuit that as a Christian, he regards the Ten Commandments as religious doctrine and that attempts to co-opt them amounted to “a cheapening and denigration” of his faith.