Oklahoma Ten Commandments | Cases | First Liberty

History of the Oklahoma Ten Commandments Monument

In 2009, Oklahoma Rep. Mike Ritze proposed legislation for a privately funded monument of the Ten Commandments, to be placed on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds. The proposal received bi-partisan support from both the state House of Representatives and the Senate, with former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry signing the bill into law. The law specifically authorized First Liberty Institute to prepare and present a legal defense of the monument.

Ritze and his family paid approximately $10,000 to have the 6-foot-tall monument built and installed. The monument is modeled after the Ten Commandments Monument displayed outside the Texas state Capitol. In the 2004 case of Van Orden v. Perry the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Texas Ten Commandments monument was constitutional. First Liberty Institute participated in this case, serving alongside the attorney general of Texas, and argued that the overwhelming majority of courts in the United States ruled in favor of identical monuments and that the Oklahoma Supreme Court approved the public display of a fifty-foot lighted cross. However, despite this overwhelming body of law, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments monument is unconstitutional under the Oklahoma Constitution. The Oklahoma Supreme Court failed to explain why a fifty-foot lighted cross was permissible but small Ten Commandments monument is not.

ACLU Sues for the Monument’s Removal

In August 2013, the ACLU filed a state court lawsuit (Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission) seeking the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the Oklahoma state capitol grounds.

In June 2014, a First Liberty attorney appeared before an Oklahoma state court, alongside attorneys from the office of the Oklahoma Attorney General, in support of a motion for summary judgment in favor of the Ten Commandments monument. A judge ruled the monument to be constitutional in October 2014, but the ACLU appealed the case.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Violates State Law, Rules Ten Commandments Unconstitutional

On June 30, 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument was unconstitutional, completely disregarding the Oklahoma legislation establishing the monument, which recognizes:

  1. “That the Ten Commandments are an important component of the foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the State of Oklahoma;
  2.  That the courts of the United States of America and of various states frequently cite the Ten Commandments in published decisions; and
  3.  Acknowledgements of the role played by the Ten Commandments in our nation’s heritage are common throughout America.”

Additionally, the ruling is inconsistent with previous Oklahoma case law, which permitted the construction of a 50-foot-tall lighted cross on Oklahoma public property.

“The Court’s ‘opinion’ completely ignores—fails to even reference—many, many decades of the Court’s own legal precedent,” said Hiram Sasser, First Liberty Institute Deputy Chief Counsel – Litigation. “Never before has the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against a passive display with religious content, much less a Ten Commandments monument with a secular purpose.”

“What they’ve disregarded entirely is the connection of the Ten Commandments to our codes of law,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott said in a Hannity interview. “Clearly there is a purpose here that is different than establishing a particular religion.”

Immediately following the release of the Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion, Attorney General Pruitt filed a motion for rehearing. In July 2015, the court denied the motion.

Oklahoma Ten Commandments Before Federal Court

While Prescott v. Oklahoma made its way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the American Atheists filed another lawsuit (American Atheists v. Thompson) challenging the Oklahoma Ten Commandments display in federal court.

First Liberty Institute and Attorney General Pruitt filed a motion seeking to dismiss the matter, which the federal judge granted, ruling against the American Atheists for their lack of standing. The American Atheists subsequently appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. That case remains pending.

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release: March 10, 2015

Contact: Gregg Wooding, gwooding@libertyinstitute.org

Cell: 214.558.9455, Office: 972.941.4453

FEDERAL COURT DISMISSES CHALLENGE TO CONSTITUIONALITY OF OKLAHOMA TEN COMMANDMENTS MONUMENT

Liberty Institute Applauds Federal Judge’s Ruling That Atheists Have No Legal Standing to Challenge Monument


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla., March 10, 2015—Today, Liberty Institute applauds the ruling of a United States District Court judge for the Western District Of Oklahoma who dismissed a federal lawsuit against the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument. The monument is one of many on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. The federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs, American Atheists, Inc. and their activists, lacked standing, giving them no grounds to bring a legal challenge against the monument. Follow this link to view the federal judge’s ruling: https://www.libertyinstitute.org/okc?

Liberty Institute, along with Oklahoma’s Attorney General, represents the State of Oklahoma in the case. Liberty Institute does not communicate on behalf of the State of Oklahoma.

Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer said, “Today’s ruling reaffirms the constitutional principle that a person who goes out of his way to take offense does not have a constitutional claim under the Establishment Clause.” Mateer said, “We are pleased that the Court has rejected this constitutional challenge and this Ten Commandments Monument may remain with other monuments on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds.”

In this case of American Atheists, Inc., et al., v. Trait Thompson, Chair of the State Capitol Preservation Commission, et al., an anti-faith group and its activists argued that the monument is unconstitutional because it contains religious imagery and is located on government property. The federal judge’s ruling follows a recent ruling by an Oklahoma state court judge, declaring that the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma capitol grounds is constitutional.

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About Liberty Institute

Liberty Institute is a national nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

To download this press release, please click here.


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