Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled the religious liberty provisions of the state’s constitution do not allow a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol.  The Oklahoma Constitution, the Court emphasized, explicitly bans the use of public property even indirectly for the benefit of any religious purpose.*

In addition, the fact that some Ten Commandment monuments are allowed by the federal constitution, the Court explained, is irrelevant. Here is an excerpt from the opinion:

In authorizing its placement, the Legislature apparently believed that there would be no legal impediment to placing the monument on the Capitol grounds so long as (1) the text was the same as the text displayed on the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, and (2) a non-religious historic purpose was given for the placement of the monument. To be sure, the United States Supreme Court case of Van Orden v. Perry ruled that the Texas Ten Commandments monument did not violate the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, 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. Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence. As concerns the “historic purpose” justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.

The ruling overturns a decision by the trial court and orders the removal of the monument. Congratulations to Baptist minister and church-state separation advocate Dr. Bruce Prescott, who was a plaintiff in the case!

The monument was put in place with private funding in 2012, pursuant to controversial legislation passed in 2009. The Baptist Joint Committee urged the Governor to veto that measure. You can read more about the Baptist Joint Committee’s take on religious displays here.

*Article 2, Section 5 states: “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion . . . “