OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Supreme Court Thursday ordered a County judge to implement a ruling that said a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds is unconstitutional and must be removed.
The state’s highest court issued a mandate to “take further action as required” by its June 30 decision that said the monument is a religious symbol and must be removed from the Capitol grounds because it violates a state constitutional ban on using public property for the benefit of religion. The 7-2 ruling was reaffirmed last month when the court denied a rehearing sought by Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
The Supreme Court’s decision reversed a ruling by Oklahoma County District Judge Thomas Prince, who ruled last year that the privately-funded monument could stay. Prince scheduled a Sept. 11 hearing to discuss how the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission will comply with the Supreme Court’s order.
A spokesman for Pruitt, Aaron Cooper, said his office had not yet received the order and declined comment. Brady Henderson, legal director for the ACLU of Oklahoma which filed the legal challenge, said his agency will likely work with the attorney general in determining how to comply with the order but the next move is up to the state.
The Supreme Court’s mandate includes no deadline for the monument’s removal and there is no timeline for complying with the order. What happens to the monument once it is removed from the Capitol grounds has also not been determined.
The 6-foot-tall granite monument was authorized by the Legislature in 2009 and was erected in 2012 after Republican state Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow and his family paid nearly $10,000 for it.
The ACLU sued the commission on behalf of the Rev. Bruce Prescott of Norman, a Baptist minister, and others who alleged the monument’s location on the Capitol grounds violated the state constitution’s ban against using public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”
Pruitt’s office argued that the monument was constitutional because of its historic nature and was nearly identical to a Texas monument that was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s June decision prompted an outcry from some conservative legislators who vowed to impeach the justices or amend the constitution to remove the provision prohibiting the use of state money or property for religious purposes.
Ritze has said he is optimistic the Legislature will pass a resolution seeking a vote of the people on whether to amend the constitution so that the monument can stay.
Since the monument was erected, several other groups have asked to put up their own monuments on the Capitol grounds. Among them is a group that wants to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also have made requests.
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