By Bob Allen
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled June 30 that a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds must come down in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of an ordained Baptist minister and other citizens.
Bruce Prescott, the lead plaintiff in Prescott et al. v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, filed a lawsuit in 2013 claiming the privately funded monument erected in 2012 violated a provision in the state Constitution prohibiting the use of state property to support particular religions or sects.
Oklahoma’s high court agreed in a 7-2 decision overruling a district judge who said in 2014 the display is constitutional because of the historical, rather than religious, importance of the Ten Commandments. Contrary to the lower court, the Supreme Court majority found, “The Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”
Prescott, former executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists who now leads the Oklahoma Faith Network, welcomed the decision in a statement on Facebook.
“Religious people should rejoice that despite the state’s argument to the contrary, the court made clear that the Ten Commandments monument is obviously religious in nature, and not merely a secular historical artifact,” Prescott said.
In the lawsuit, Prescott and fellow plaintiff Jim Huff, a member at First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and executive secretary of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, objected to “co-option of their religious traditions, resulting in a cheapening and degradation of their shared faith.”
Paid for with $10,000 donated and raised privately by Republican Rep. Mike Ritze, House sponsor of legislation authorizing its placement in 2009, the monument used the same text placed on a monument on the Capitol grounds in Texas that the U.S. Supreme Court determined did not violate the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court said that precedent had no bearing on the case before them. “The issue in the case at hand is whether the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution, not whether it violates the Establishment Clause,” the justices ruled. “Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence.”
Ritze, a Southern Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher at Arrow Heights Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., released a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision. “This ‘opinion’ reads more like a shot from the hip than a real opinion,” Ritze said. “When the court rules against legislative action that is in compliance with its own precedent it should at least explain itself to the legislature and the people. What will now become of the Native American religious symbols at the Capitol?”
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said, “Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong.” Pruitt said his office will ask the court for a rehearing and that the monument be allowed to stay until the court considers his request.