In Oklahoma City, a privately funded six-foot-tall granite monument to the Ten Commandments is due to be removed from the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. After several years of controversy and debate, Capitol Preservation Commission – an advisory body on art at the capitol - voted 7-1 on September 29 to remove the monument following a ruling by the state supreme court that its presence was in violation of the Oklahoma state constitution. Vegans, Hindus, Satanists, atheists, and others had long campaigned to have the monument removed.
The Capitol Preservation Commission had been named as a defendant in a lawsuit seeking the monument's removal. Spokesman John Estus said of the removal, "We're also going to coordinate with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to address some ongoing security concerns that they have."
The Ten Commandments monument has been controversial ever since 2012. In time, several groups made requests to install their own monuments. For example, New York Satanists wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue depicting Satan as a goat-headed figure with horns and a long beard. Hindus, animal rights groups, and an organization calling itself the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.
In 2014, the original monument was vandalized by the driver of a car who drove onto the Capitol law and smashed it. A 29-year-old man was arrested the next day, and then sent to hospital for mental health evaluation. No formal charges were filed. A new monument went up in January 2015.
Former Republican state Rep. Mike Reynolds was among those who tried to address the arts panel. He was refused recognition by chairwoman Linda Edmondson. Reynolds cried, "This is an illegal meeting." Reynolds maintained that the panel has the authority to only approve or disapprove plans, and has no power beyond the Capitol building itself.
According to spokesman Estus, the monument will be removed by October 12.
In June of this year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument on the Capitol grounds violates a constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support "any sect, church, denomination or system of religion." A district court judge then ordered the monument’s removal.
Republican Rep. Mike Ritze paid approximately $10,000 for the monument's construction. Legislation authorizing the monument was approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature. Former Governor Brad Henry (D) signed it into law in 2009. Despite arguments that it violated the state constitution, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt then fought to keep the monument.
An Oklahoma judge gave the state 30 days to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state capitol grounds in a lawsuit filed by a Baptist minister. An ordained Baptist minister, Bruce Prescott - former executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists – sued the State of Oklahoma in 2013 to remove the monument.
Oklahoma ACLU Executive Director Ryan Kiesel said he was pleased by the district court’s ruling to sustain the supreme court decision. He said earlier this month, “Our work on behalf of our plaintiffs in this case will benefit Oklahomans of all faiths and those of no faith at all by reaffirming the long held principles that have ensured that our state and nation are places in which matters of faith are determined by individuals and not their government.”
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