Greg Horton, Religion News Service with BJC Staff Reports
On October 5, workers began digging out the Ten Commandments monument that has been on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds since 2012, well ahead of the court-ordered removal date of Oct. 12.
John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said the decision to do the work after dark was based on public safety and security.
By Oct. 6, the monument was already installed at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs just a few blocks from the Capitol. The OCPA is a privately funded public policy research organization that provides research data and information to legislators about state-level issues from a free-market perspective.
Thus ended a long culture war in which state lawmakers tried to save the monument but in the end only opened the door for other groups, including Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to apply for permission to erect their own monuments on Capitol grounds.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the monument removed from the state Capitol grounds June 30. Bruce Prescott, leader of the Oklahoma Faith Network and former executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming the privately funded monument on the state Capitol grounds violated the state constitution’s prohibition on using state property in support of religion.
In a 7-2 ruling, the justices said the monument was in violation of Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The article states that public money or property cannot be used or donated “ … for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion … .” The wording is critical because the monument was purchased with private donations but placed on public land.
“The OCPA was the first to make an offer to take the monument,” Estus said. “They poured the concrete base for it last week, so it was an easy matter to drive it down the street and install it.”
The Republican Party of Oklahoma also offered a home to the monument.
Estus said the visibility at OCPA is much better than at the Capitol. In fact, the monument will face one of the busiest streets in the Capitol area, North Lincoln, so it will be viewed by thousands of commuters every day. The former location was tucked up against the north side of the Capitol, nearly invisible to drivers.
The OCPA will take care of ongoing costs, and the monument is officially “on loan” to the organization.
From the September/October 2015 Report from the Capital. Click here to read the next story.