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Monday, July 6, 2015

10 Commandments Monument Violates State Constitution

Oklahoma's Supreme Court has ruled that a Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is unconstitutional under state law.  The lower court had ruled that the six-foot monument did not violate the state constitution because of its historical value.  Last week, however, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed that ruling in Prescott v. Oklahoma Capital Preservation Commission, and ordered that the monument be removed.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the Preservation Commission’s reliance on Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005), a case involving the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.  The Oklahoma court noted that “the issue in the case at hand is whether the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution, not whether it violates the Establishment Clause.” (emphasis in original). Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution states:
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.
The Court focused on the use of the word “indirectly” in the state constitution to find the broad and expansive prohibition against using public property to promote religion.

In light of this decision, local governments may want to carefully review state constitutions – in addition to federal law – before permitting state or municipal religious displays on public property.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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