Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the Oklahoma state Legislature are dismayed – and some are furious – over the Oklahoma State Supreme Court's decision demanding removal of a Ten Commandments monument.
In a 7-2 decision issued Tuesday (June 30), the justices agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, Oklahoma) that the monument, paid for with private funds but occupying a niche at the northeast corner of the state Capitol building, constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion under state constitutional provisions.
Soon after the edict was issued, state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, raised a question getting widepread currency among Capitol observers, concerning Native American symbols that suffice state, local and other government properties in the Sooner State. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Ritze said, “I am deeply disappointed the court did not follow its own precedent or even bother to cite it. This ‘opinion’ reads more like a shot from the hip than a real opinion. 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?”
A similar critical view came from state Rep. David Brumbaugh, also a Broken Arrow Republican. He commented, “The Oklahoma Supreme Court has once again bowed to outside pressure of groups who have absolutely no historical standing in opposing the monument.”
Brumbaugh, House Majority Caucus Chairman, observed, “The Ten Commandments are the ethical foundation for all laws that we are governed by in Oklahoma and our nation. The legal connection with our moral and civil law here in Oklahoma is undeniable. The Oklahoma Supreme Court was absolutely wrong in its ruling today. I hope our attorney general will continue to fight this decision.”
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in his release on the matter, “Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong. The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law. Furthermore, the court’s incorrect interpretation of Article 2, Section 5 contradicts previous rulings of the court.
“In response, my office will file a petition with the court for a rehearing in light of the broader implications of this ruling on other areas of state law. In the interim, enforcement of the court’s order cannot occur. Finally, if Article 2, Section 5, is going to be construed in such a manner by the court, it will be necessary to repeal it.”
Oklahoma's affiliate of the ACLU applauded the decision.
Ryan Kiesel, the group's executive director and a former member of the state House, said in his statement provided to CapitolBeatOK, “The placement of the Ten Commandments Monument at the Capitol created a more divisive and hostile state for many Oklahomans, sending a message to some citizens that they are less than equal because of their religious beliefs.
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court recognizes that when the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it is an affront to one of the most fundamental protections of the Oklahoma Constitution, namely that all Oklahomans, regardless of the beliefs, stand before their government as equals.”
His colleague, attorney Brady Henderson, commented, “The framers of Oklahoma’s Constitution, like the founders of our country, understood that our religious choices are our own to make, not the government’s. …
“The decision is a victory for all Oklahomans who value the simple freedom to come to their own conclusions about matters of conscience. The Court’s ruling affirms the time-honored idea that my faith is a relationship between me and God, not me, God, and my local government.”
Many religious leaders challenged the Court's decision, including Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City. He said, “The Supreme Court’s decision to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds ignores its historical significance in the formation of our state and as an ancient law code having prominence at the place where lawmakers work to enact wise and just laws. The Court's dismissal of these established facts is deeply concerning and disappointing."
However, Rev. Bruce Prescott, lead plaintiff in the case (Prescott et al. v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission), was happy: “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.”
Perhaps the great fury over the decision came from state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, who issued a statement for himself and several other GOP legislators. Calvey said,
“Our state Supreme Court is playing politics by issuing rulings contrary to the Constitution, and contrary to the will of the clear majority of Oklahoma voters. These Supreme Court justices are nothing more than politicians in black robes, masquerading as objective jurists.
This ruling is the Court engaging in judicial bullying of the people of Oklahoma, pure and simple. It is time that the people chose jurists, rather than letting a tiny special interest group of lawyers at the Oklahoma Bar Association dictate who can and can’t be a judge.”
Calvey contends the ruling has no basis in law: “The Ten Commandments have undeniable historical significance as a foundation for U.S. law. The United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., itself depicts the Ten Commandments. To ban the Ten Commandments from the seat of our state’s government shows that the court is imposing its own elitist political prejudices on the people.”
Calvey intends to craft articles of impeachment against the jurists who issued the ruling.
Although indicating he would not seek impeachment of the justices, state Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, made clear his disdain for the controversial decision: “Our country is under assault from an unelected judiciary that is continuously trying to force cultural change upon us.
“First, we had the U.S. Supreme Court counter a long tradition of marriage law this month. Now the Oklahoma Supreme Court is going against higher court rulings on the use of Ten Commandment monuments, saying the Capitol monument is unconstitutional.
“We cannot and will not stand for this. This is pure evil winning in our state and country.
“We obviously have a failing system when judges can arbitrarily change the law, rather than simply interpret it. Support for judicial reform in Oklahoma is growing.”