Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY -- State Sens. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, and John Sparks, D-Norman, on Tuesday (December 15) launched their push to authorize a Bill of Rights monument at the state Capitol.
The two lawmakers are working in cooperation with MyBillofRights.org, an organization based in Arizona leading a national movement to establish monuments at every U.S. state capitol, to honor the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Chris Bliss, executive director of MyBillofRights.org, described the Bill of Rights as “common ground” for Americans. The Oklahoma project, he believes, can demonstrate that “Our highest ground is our common ground.”
Bliss observed, “Every school kid at some point visits their state capitol building. This is intended to expose them to the document and its meaning.” He says the project “is long-term and visionary, forward-looking.”
Sen. Anderson said he first discussed the idea with Bliss “a couple of years ago.” Anderson, who serves as vice chairman of the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, is known as a strong advocate for parental choice in education.
'Sen. Sparks said he was drawn to this because of his belief that it is “important for all of us to understand that all of the amendments in the Bill of Rights are important.” Sparks said he backed a similar project a decade ago, aiming to bolster understanding of the Bill of Rights in Norman Schools.
Sparks presently serves as Democratic Leader in the upper chamber.
The Anderson-Sparks measure is Senate Bill 14, likely to be considered during the 2016 session of the Oklahoma Legislature.
Bliss hopes the envisioned monument here will be “a notable place, … a place for contemplation. It should be educational and inspirational.” Bliss said the drive for an amendment dedicated to the Bill or Rights will offer an opportunity to revive civics and U.S. government education. In this, he echoed a lament that has come from varied leaders in the Sooner State.
CapitolBeatOK asked the three men if some contemporary Americans might want to leave out one or more of the initial U.S. amendments, including perhaps the Second (the right to keep and bear arms).
Bliss said it is a mistake to “separate any one out.” The Bill of Rights is “an architecture,” he observed. He hopes the project is a way “to replant the seeds of greatness” for the nation.
Asked about the recent removal of a Ten Commandments monument which had been approved overwhelmingly in the Legislature, Sen. Sparks said, “This is not a monument contest.”
Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court mandated removal of a Ten Commandments monument constructed with use of private dollars but placed with the Legislature’s approval.
Sen. Anderson said he and Sen. Sparks “anticipate many co-sponsors, and members of both parties.” Concerning the cost of the amendment, the three men stressed funding would come from private dollars. Despite a glum state economy, they believed Oklahomans would rally to support the monument project with private gifts.
As to where the monument might be placed, Anderson said that would be up to the Capitol Preservation Commission. Anderson anticipates that the present moratorium on new monuments will eventually be lifted. That ban on construction of new edifices was put in place after filling of the lawsuit demanding removal of the monument honoring the Decalogue.
The press conference at the Oklahoma Capitol was held 224 years, to the day, after final ratification of the Bill of Rights. At the nation’s founding, after the Articles of Confederation were widely disdained, a Constitutional Convention met in 1787.
Although the states approved a Constitution, many insisted that a Bill of Rights be added as a contingency of that ratification.
The U.S. Congress, meeting on March 4, 1789 in New York City, crafted a Preamble to the Bill of Rights, which read as follows:
“The Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting th Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added:
And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficient ends of its institution.”
Virginia became the eleventh American state to approve the Bill of Rights – on December 15, 1791.