The American Civil Liberties Union is taking on the state of Oklahoma over a monument featuring the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible, which is prominently placed in the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City. According to a statement released by the ACLU and the ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation on Tuesday, the lawsuit “seeks to have the monument removed” on the grounds that it violates constitutional provisions against use of government property to promote a particular sect or religion.
According to the rights group, the monument “trivializes” the religious meaning of the commandments by placing them in “a political and secular context.” The Ten Commandments are sacred to both Jewish and Christian believers, and as such, the ACLU is arguing, belong in a sacred space like a church or synagogue rather than a state capitol.
One plaintiff, retired Baptist minister Bruce Prescott of Norman, OK, said, “To argue that the monument merely commemorates something historical rather than religious is a slap in the face to the many Oklahomans, like myself, who incorporate the Ten Commandments into our religious practice.”
In addition, “(t)he monument’s placement at the Capitol has created a more divisive and hostile state for many Oklahomans,” said Ryan Kiesel of the ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation. “When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal.”
Daniel Mach, director of the national ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief said, “On fundamental matters of faith, the state has no business telling its citizens what to believe. No one should be made to feel unwelcome at their own state Capitol.”
The rights organization filed the suit on behalf of several Oklahomans including former educator Jim Huff and retired businessman Donald Chabot of Oklahoma City and former social studies teacher Cheryl Franklin of Enid, OK.
According to Oklahoma City’s News9.com, the monument was financed by Republican Rep. Mike Ritze and his family, who shelled out $10,000 to erect it with the blessing of the Republican-led state legislature in 2009. When it was first erected, the six foot tall granite monument contained a number of spelling errors, including the word “sabbath” spelled “sabbeth” and the word “maidservant” as “maidseruant.”
The mistakes have since been corrected.