Friday, March 13, 2015

Ten Commandments Monument Will Remain At Oklahoma State Capitol

In 2012, a 6-foot-tall stone monument, inscribed with then Ten Commandments, was installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, per mandate of the Oklahoma State Government.  Since then, there have been two lawsuits filed against the monument. In September, an Oklahoma County District Judge ruled that the monument’s presence is not unconstitutional and can remain in its location on the Capitol’s grounds.  The case at play here is a lawsuit filed in January 2014 by a New Jersey non-profit group, American Atheists Inc. 

The American Atheists alleged that the monument violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government sanctioning a particular religion and other constitutional rights.  This case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron in Oklahoma on March 10th because the plaintiffs failed to show standing upon which to bring this lawsuit.  The president of the American Atheists organization, David Silverman, said “I want to be clear about this: we have a religious monument, placed on government property, by government mandate.”

I agree with the fact that the New Jersey based group had no grounds upon which to file this suit and therefore agree with the dismissal.  However, I do believe that a group in Oklahoma indirectly or directly affected by this monument would have valid grounds upon which to challenge the establishment of this monument.  In my opinion, either all groups who wish to do so should be allowed to have a monument on the grounds or the Ten Commandments monument should be removed so as to not show a preference of the state government toward any one religion.

By allowing the Oklahoma State Capitol to have the Ten Commandments posted on their grounds, the state is opening themselves up to a slippery slope that they may not be ready to deal with.  For example, a Satanic group has already commenced building their own monument for the Capitol’s lawn as a way of protesting.  A spokesperson for the Governor of Oklahoma stated that there “will never be a satanic monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the suggestion that there might be is absurd”.  From this statement, it appears very obvious that the state has no intention to treat all religions and non-religions equal in the matter of who is allowed to resurrect a monument here.  The Satanic group believes that if they are not allowed to place this statue or the state will be “demonstrating an unconstitutional double standard”.  Since the Ten Commandment monument’s placement, other groups have asked to erect their own monuments including a Hindu leader, an animal rights group, and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Another case we have looked at recently that dealt with displaying the Ten Commandments in a public location is Stone v. Graham, where the court ruled that the Kentucky law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in each public school classroom violated the Establishment Claus of the First Amendment.  In this case, the court used the Lemon test to find that the posting of the Ten Commandments served “no secular legislative purpose” and was “plainly religious in nature”.  Though it still seems as though courts choose when and when not to apply the Lemon test, the Ten Commandments monument clearly violates both of these facets of the test as well.  The Oklahoma State held a similar belief as the Kentucky court in Stone v. Graham that the posting of the Ten Commandments serves a historical purpose, not a religious purpose.  However, I believe that it is not possible for the Ten Commandments to solely serve a historical purpose and not a religious purpose because of their fundamental nature in the Christian religion.

By not permitting all secular and non-secular groups that desire to have a historical monument on the capitol grounds, the Oklahoma state government would be prohibiting the free exercise of other, non-Christian groups.  The government would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and consequently, would show that they are establishing the religion of Christianity, in violation of the Establishment Clause.  What will happen the next time a group inevitably brings a suit to have the Ten Commandments removed?  Will this case be dismissed yet again or will a group that proves to have enough standing finally give this issue the attention it deserves?


Nina N. said...

I would agree with you that the NJ group does not have any standing to bring this case before a court but I think that this is still a really important issue of church and state. The problem would not be solved if all religions were treated "neutrally" in this case because there would still be issues of placement, size, dates, etc. It's best for the government to not allow these sort of monuments on government property at all. It's a violation of the establishment clause because even if it isn't endorsing one religion, it's endorsing multiple which can still not really be truly neutral.

Libby W said...

I agree that if the school is to keep this monument then they also have to be open to having monuments of any other religion. Preventing the Satanic group to build their own monument is unconstitutional because it is the first step towards establishing that the government solely endorses Christianity. They must either allow the Satanic group's monument to be built, or take down the existing monument. The school may argue, as mentioned by the author, that the Ten Commandments monument is serving an educational purpose, but the Satanic group could also make this argument about their monument.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is a violation of the First Amendment because the Oklahoma state government is limiting the free exercise of all other groups besides Christians. If they want to keep the monument up they should be required to show neutrality among religions and well as neutrality between religious and non religious groups as long as each group has intentions of bettering the community with their monuments. Also, using government money to fund a Christian monument on government property is a clear advancement of Christianity within the state. In addition, not allowing other groups to have monuments while there is a Christian one is inhibiting their religions which fails the Lemon Test.

Abby Copp said...

Overall, I agree with the comments posted and with the author. The fact that this monument is on the state capitol's lawn further advances the argument for unconstitutionality under the Establishment Clause. I do, however, want to pitch in an idea. Not to say that I actually believe this, but what if the population of the state of Oklahoma is predominantly made up of Christians? If the majority does not find fault with the monument--though its existence may be unconstitutional--why is it a big problem? Our democratic processes of government favor the majority, so why shouldn't this monument that is on the capitol's lawn also not do the same? (Again, this is not to say that I have this viewpoint).