An Oklahoma County judge ruled Friday that a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds is constitutional.
Attorneys for the group that sued to have the monument removed said they will appeal that decision.
District Judge Thomas Prince ruled the monument’s placement is constitutional and that it can remain in place during the appeals process. Prince on Friday granted the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission’s request for summary judgment, halting the lawsuit from advancing to trial.
Extensive briefs have been filed by both parties in the case — the state arguing the monument should be allowed and the American Civil Liberties Union taking the other side.
Prince heard only brief arguments Friday before rendering his judgment.
“Today’s ruling is a clear message that the Ten Commandments can be displayed on public grounds like the Oklahoma Capitol because of the historical role the text has played in the founding of our nation,” state Attorney General Scott Pruitt said.
“The Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is constitutional because of its historical value.
“The U.S. Supreme Court found constitutional a nearly identical monument in Texas,” Pruitt said. “We were confident in the state’s case from the start and appreciate the court’s thoughtful consideration and ruling in the state’s favor.”
Hiram Sasser, legal director for the Liberty Institute, also represented the state in the case. He said: “This is a great victory for the people of Oklahoma. Ten Commandments monuments are routinely upheld as constitutional across the country. This is just one more example of how the Ten Commandments monuments may be constitutionally displayed.”
The display, donated by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, was installed Nov. 15, 2012, under the direction and with the permission of the Capitol Preservation Commission.
The American Civil Liberties Union argued the case on behalf of four plaintiffs, including a minister, a retired businessman and two former educators.
The ACLU said that it will appeal the judgment, which was based on legal precedent pertaining to religious monuments involving state money.
The fifth section of the state constitution’s Bill of Rights reads as follows: “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 ACLU will appeal to the state Supreme Court within 30 days of the judgment being filed, Oklahoma ACLU Legal Director Brady Henderson said. The state’s high court may first send the case down to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, he said.
“We respectfully disagree with the decision of the court,” Henderson said. “The plaintiffs in this case do not seek the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the state Capitol lawn because they find the text of the monument offensive, but rather because, like many Oklahomans, the Ten Commandments constitute a core part of their sincerely held religious beliefs, and it is offensive to them that this sacred document has been hijacked by politicians.
“We will appeal this decision and ask the Oklahoma Supreme Court to find that the Oklahoma Constitution does not give the government the power to cheapen inherently religious texts.”
ACLU Executive Director Ryan Kiesel said, “I think everyone involved knew this wasn’t going to be the last word in this case. This was just one step in a process.
“Not only is the exploitation of the Ten Commandments for political purposes an insult to the many Oklahomans who incorporate the commandments into their religious observance, it marginalizes those Oklahomans of different faiths and no faith at all by sending a distinct message that they are less welcome at the state Capitol.
“We aim to ensure the freedom of future generations of Oklahomans to make their own decisions about faith remains intact and free from political interference. We knew going into this case that it would ultimately be decided by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and today’s decision places us one step closer to a resolution by the state’s highest court,” he said.
A similar lawsuit filed in Oklahoma City federal court this January by American Atheists Inc. is set for trial in March.
Last December, the New York-based Satanic Temple sought to put up a monument on Capitol grounds.
A Nevada Hindu leader and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals quickly followed before a moratorium on monuments being installed on state property was issued. There are currently about 50 monuments on Capitol grounds.