On June 30, 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on an Oklahoma citizen’s challenge to the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. As most are aware, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument must be removed. Based upon the Oklahoma Constitution, this was the correct decision.
Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution 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, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.” This section of the Oklahoma Constitution clearly bans the State Government from using any public money or property for the benefit or support of any religious group. This ban remains, even if the use of public money or property only indirectly benefits any religious group. Thus, the only question is whether the placement of the Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol, in any way, benefits or supports religion. Obviously, the Ten Commandments are a central part of the Jewish and Christian faiths. And, in this State, the reason so many people are upset with this decision is because of the importance of the Ten Commandments to Christianity. That is precisely why, pursuant to the Oklahoma Constitution, the Ten Commandments monument had to be removed. To have the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol, public property, clearly provided an indirect benefit to Christianity. This is what is forbidden by the Oklahoma Constitution.
Since this decision, there have been calls by members of the Oklahoma legislature to repeal this section of the Oklahoma Constitution or to impeach the Supreme Court justices that voted for this ruling. Both of those would be folly.
First, repealing this section of the Oklahoma Constitution for the sole purpose of putting the Ten Commandments monument back at the State Capitol would be pointless. More likely than not, this Ten Commandments monument also violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The First Amendment, in relevant part, states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The First Amendment applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. In Van Orden v. Perry, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. This Ten Commandments monument was nearly identical to the one that was on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the Supreme Court found that it was permissible for Texas to have it. Unfortunately, there are significant factual differences between the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument and the Texas Ten Commandments monument. For example, the Texas Ten Commandments monument was a gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1961 and had been in place for 42 years before the lawsuit was filed challenging its placement. Further, it was part of a display of seventeen monuments, all located on grounds registered as a historical landmark, and it was carefully located between the Supreme Court building and the Capitol building housing the legislative and executive branches of government. The Supreme Court specifically mentioned the importance of these facts in determining that the Texas Ten Commandments monument was permissible. By contrast, the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument has no history. It was placed on the grounds of the State Capitol in 2012. It was not donated to the State by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, or some other secular organization. It was paid for by the family of State Rep. Mike Ritze, who also authored the bill to allow for the Ten Commandments monument to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol. Further, this monument was not placed among many other historical monuments, but was placed in an isolated location far from the main entrance to the Capitol. Because the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument is a new monument with no history, it is likely the Supreme Court would find it is in violation of the First Amendment.
Second, the United States Constitution was put in place not to protect the majority. The Constitution is there to protect the rights of the minority. We, as Christians, need to be careful what we do while we are the majority. If recent studies are to be believed, there may come a day when we are no longer the majority. Whether that new majority would be of a different religion or no religion at all, we would be the ones in need of the protections of the Constitution. Protections to guarantee that a new majority religion cannot become state sponsored or supported by public funds or property and protections to guarantee that we may still freely practice our religion would become even more important. Removing those protections now, because people are upset that a new monument to the Ten Commandments cannot be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol, would be an unwise and short sighted thing to do.
Finally, our country was founded on the separation of powers and the respect for the rule of law. To threaten to impeach the Supreme Court justices because we disagree with them is absurd. Based upon the Oklahoma Constitution, these Supreme Court justices were simply doing their jobs. If we disagree with their legal reasoning, it is our duty to engage them in honest debate, not to threaten them and shout them down so we no longer have to listen to their opinions. The world, our country, and our state is filled with people who disagree with us. We must be able to engage in civilized disagreement and be able to discuss different positions with people that do not believe as we do, for this is how we grow as an individual and as a society.