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VICTORY! U.S. District Judge Dismisses American Atheists’ Attack on a Ten Commandments Monument on the OK Capitol Grounds

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March 12, 2015

First Liberty Institute applauds the court’s decision to protect this display of America’s religious heritage

On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, First Liberty Institute participated in defeating American Atheists in their latest search-and-destroy mission against a Ten Commandments monument. 

United States District Judge Robin J. Cauthron dismissed a lawsuit brought by American Atheists and two activists who were seeking to ban the Ten Commandments monument from the Oklahoma state capitol. 

First Liberty Institute, along with Oklahoma’s Attorney General, represents the State of Oklahoma in the case. While First Liberty Institute is not authorized to communicate on behalf of the State of Oklahoma, Jeff Mateer, First Liberty Institute’s General Counsel, issued the following statement on behalf of First Liberty Institute:

“We are gratified that the Court saw fit to dismiss this latest attack on a Ten Commandments monument. This is a good day for the citizens of Oklahoma and their heritage.”

First Liberty Institute SELECTED TO DEFEND MONUMENT

First Liberty Institute is a national leader in defending such monuments, and was selected by the state of Oklahoma to protect the Ten Commandments monument against anticipated legal attacks.

And the attacks came. American Atheists filed their lawsuit in January 2014 after Rep. Mike Ritze (R-OK) proposed legislation for the privately funded monument in 2009. 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 authorizes First Liberty Institute to “prepare and present a legal defense of the monument.”

TEN COMMANDMENTS PART OF AMERICAN HERITAGE

The legislation establishing the monument 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.”

The monument is modeled after the Ten Commandments monument displayed outside the Texas state capitol.

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court held that identical Ten Commandments monument constitutional in Van Orden v. Perry, a case in which First Liberty Institute assisted the Texas Attorney General in defending.

HOW THE COURT BATTLE WAS WON

In her opinion, Judge Cauthron ruled in favor of the State of Oklahoma’s challenge that American Atheists and their activists lacked “standing” to bring the lawsuit. To have “standing” means that the plaintiffs filing the lawsuit suffered an “injury in fact,” that the “injury in fact” is connected to the conduct complained of, and that a decision in their favor would likely redress the harm.

As the Court’s opinion notes, our questioning under oath of the atheist plaintiff was a key to winning the case because they lacked such standing. Her interrogation showed that she did not even see the monument enough times to make the claim credible! That deposition, coupled with our investigation of the facts of the plaintiffs’ lack of visits to the monuments, destroyed their contention of harm, and thus of legal “standing.” Importantly, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the judge observed that plaintiffs do not have a “special license to roam the country in search of governmental wrongdoing.”

The judge’s ruling recognized these facts and law and, therefore, dismissed the case.

“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.”

WHY THIS VICTORY IS IMPORTANT

American Atheists spend over $2 million per year trying to eradicate religious influence from society, engaging in tactics ranging from publicity campaigns to legal attacks such as this one.

Here, they went on a blatant search and destroy mission against a lawful Ten Commandments monument, and we assisted in exposing the tactic in such a way that the court threw out their claim. That will help as we defend other monuments, as opponents may think twice about going on fishing expeditions to try to destroy monuments to America’s religious heritage.

This is the second victory First Liberty Institute has celebrated for the very same Ten Commandments monument, as in September 2014 in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in state court, a Oklahoma judge ruled the monument to be legal under the Oklahoma Constitution.

Moreover, the state of Arkansas has recently introduced similar legislation to Oklahoma’s which also names First Liberty Institute as the organization that will defend their Ten Commandments Monument.

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