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Ten Commandments ruling fuels outrage, a legal challenge and calls to change state constitution

Ten Commandments ruling fuels outrage, a legal challenge and calls to change state constitution

They want Ten Commandments monument to stay put.

OKLAHOMA CITY — In the days following a decision that said the Ten Commandments must be removed, flowers began appearing at the base of the monument on the north side of the state Capitol.

Visitors stopped employees to seek directions to the monument.

A June 30 decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-2, said the monument violated the Oklahoma Constitution. The opinion generated outrage. Some called for impeachment of the seven justices. Others sought judicial reform.

Some legislators have proposed a measure that would allow residents to vote on removing the portion of the state constitution that the court relied upon in its ruling.

Gov. Mary Fallin jumped into the mix last week, saying the monument would stay pending the outcome of a request by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt that the case be reheard, and legislative efforts to change the constitution.

On the other side, some legal scholars said the court got it right. Others appeared a little surprised that the decision drew such an outcry from supporters.

Bob Burke, an Oklahoma City attorney, has written 121 books, of which 120 are about Oklahoma history.

“I believe the Supreme Court is absolutely right for two reasons,” he said. “Number one, the constitutional provision which they interpreted cannot be any clearer. The Supreme Court, in my opinion, had no option but to interpret the constitution as they did.”

The section at the crux of the matter is Article II, Section 5: “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.”

Despite arguments from supporters that the monument was privately funded and historical, the state’s highest court found the Ten Commandments are “obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”

The opinion noted that the framers specifically banned any uses “indirectly” benefiting religion.

The decision resulted in a slew of criticism from some lawmakers.

Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, said the justices abused their power.

“They are the bullies, the judiciary,” Calvey said.

“What makes the Supreme Court think that the seven justices have a better opinion than the super majority of the state Legislature,” said Randy Brogdon, Oklahoma Republican Party chairman, who — as a former state senator from Owasso — co-sponsored the bill to allow the monument.

Lawmakers wasted no time in filing House Joint Resolution 1036. If passed, it would allow a statewide vote on repealing the portion of the constitution cited in the decision.

“After reviewing the Supreme Court’s Ten Commandment ruling, it is clear that we have a toxic provision in our state constitution,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon. “It was written with discrimination in mind and, like a malignant tumor, needs to be removed completely.”

Another idea is to let the people vote on adding a section to the constitution to allow for the monument, as opposed to deleting the section cited in the opinion.

Critics say removing Article II, Section 5 might result in letting the monument stay, but it opens the door for other entities to seek placement of a monument on the Capitol grounds.

The Satanic Temple said it will renew its request to place Baphomet on the Capitol grounds. Meanwhile, Hindus said they will reiterate their request for a statue of Lord Hanuman to honor Hindus living in Oklahoma and raise awareness about the religion, the oldest and third largest in the world.

James Huff of Oklahoma City is a retired teacher and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

He considers erection of the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol “offensive” because politicians are taking what he considers a sacred teaching and calling it history.

Gary Allison teaches constitutional law at the University of Tulsa College of Law. He agrees with the court ruling and said the state’s founding fathers were adamant that religion and government should be separate.

“What I don’t understand is why the true proponents of religion want to contaminate it with the inner workings of government, allowing state politicians to use them,” Allison said.

The Supreme Court ordered the lower court to conduct proceedings consistent with its ruling, essentially telling it to order the monument removed. However, that order was halted pending the outcome of the rehearing request.

While Fallin has raised the issue, citing three branches of co-equal government, she is not a defendant. The suit names the 15-member Capitol Preservation Commission, which is being represented by Pruitt’s office.

Fallin can’t be held in contempt of court if the monument is not removed, said Joseph Thai, a University of Oklahoma College of Law professor.

“The Supreme Court ultimately gets the last word on what the constitution means,” Thai said. “Between the two masters, the commissioners are bound to follow the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court, not as Mary Fallin would hope it would be.”

Fallin could cause others who are part of the case to be held in contempt of court, Allison said.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Mark Hammons said Fallin’s actions and statements appear to be an effort to deflect focus away from critical state issues, such as crumbing roads and bridges.

“The governor should govern,” he said. “There is a time to stop playing politics.”

In her monthly column, Fallin said she believed the court got it wrong.

“It is my hope we will reach a long-term resolution that ensures it remains indefinitely as a tribute to Oklahoma values, culture and history,” Fallin wrote.

Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465

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