Satanists want equal time in Oklahoma

An out-of-state group turned up the heat in debate over a Ten Commandments monument on public property in Oklahoma by requesting equal access for a statue honoring “the historic/literary Satan.”

By Bob Allen

Controversy over a Ten Commandments monument on grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol took a surprising twist when Satanists sought to place a statue of their own alongside it.

According to media reports, the New York-based Satanic Temple has notified the state’s Capitol Preservation Commission that it wants to donate a monument on the Capitol grounds “as an homage to the historic/literary Satan.” Possible designs include a pentagram — a satanic symbol — and an interactive display for children.

Bruce Prescott, an ordained Baptist minister who serves as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, joined three other Oklahoma taxpayers in a lawsuit filed in August by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking removal of the monument paid for by a Southern Baptist state representative who sponsored a bill authorizing its placement in 2009.

It isn’t the first time Satanists have tried to capitalize on laws passed with support of conservative Christians aimed to increase the influence of religion in the public square. The Satanic Temple’s first rally, announced in January, was in support of Florida Gov. Rick Scott for signing legislation permitting prayer in public schools, thereby “allowing our Satanic children the freedom to pray in school.”

Prescott, a member of NorthHaven Church in Norman, Okla., argued in his lawsuit that erection of the 6-foot tall granite slab engraved with an English translation of the Ten Commandments most commonly used by Protestants violates the Oklahoma constitution’s ban on the use of public funds or property for the benefit or support of any “sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”

Prescott and co-plaintiff Jim Huff, a member at First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, objected to the monument’s “co-option of their religious traditions, resulting in a cheapening and degradation of their shared faith.” The other two protested it as a “statement of official state religion inconsistent with the dictates of their own faiths.”

oklahoma ten commandmentsPublic displays of the Ten Commandments are a frequent culture war battle fought in the murky gray area of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state. The U.S. Supreme Court delivered split rulings on the issue in 2005.

In one case, justices ruled 5-4 that a display near the Texas State Capitol was lawful because it had secular purposes of acknowledging the role of religion in American history and honoring the organization, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which placed it there in 1961.

In the other, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to order removal of framed copies of the Ten Commandments in courthouses in two counties in Kentucky, saying they were put there for a “predominantly religious purpose” and thereby an unconstitutional establishment of religion by the government.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty filed amicus briefs opposing both displays and supporting government neutrality in matters of religion.

“We should be more concerned with following the Ten Commandments rather than merely posting them on government property,” BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman commented about the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument in 2009. “Religion flourishes best when the separation of church and state is protected.”

In 2003, the Supreme Court refused to hear one of the most famous Ten Commandments cases requiring removal of the 5,280-lb. granite monument from the rotunda of the Alabama state judicial building. Placed there by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who will forever be known as the Ten Commandments judge, Moore was removed from office in 2003 but won his old job back in 2012.

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