Written by Don Byrd
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is considering a bill recently passed by the legislature that authorizes every local government to display historical documents including the Ten Commandments on publicly owned grounds. The House approved the measure on a 60-14 vote after the Senate passed the bill, 39-3.
According to the bill, historical documents that can be posted include, but are not limited to:
the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, Oklahoma Constitution and other historically significant documents in the form of statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or any other display that respects the dignity and solemnity of such documents. Such documents shall be displayed in a manner consistent with the context of other documents contained in such display.
It also authorizes the state’s Attorney General to defend the law if its constitutionality is challenged in court.
In 2015, the state’s Supreme Court ruled a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol violates a provision of the Oklahoma Constitution barring the use of public property, even indirectly, for the benefit of any religious purpose. A battle followed over the removal of the monument, including a threat by the Governor to defy the ruling and leave it in place while she considered other legal options. The matter finally culminated in a court order requiring the state to remove the monument.
If signed by the Governor, does this new legislation allow the return of the Ten Commandments monument? Likely not, so long as the provision in the state Constitution that was the basis of the court’s ruling remains intact. If anything, the law may invite increased litigation as local governments feel empowered to post the Ten Commandments and courts are required to sort out the interaction between state statute and the state’s constitution on this question.
For more on this issue generally, check out the Baptist Joint Committee’s page on religious displays.