Oklahoma lawmakers are appalled that Satanists would try to erect a monument in their state capitol, but their decision to include a monument to the Ten Commandments of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament may have placed the state on shaky legal ground.
The Associated Press reported that constitutional scholars and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agree, if faith-based displays are to be allowed in public spaces in Oklahoma, then a multitude of faiths must be represented, even if that faith is considered repugnant by a majority of the state’s citizens.
The New York City-based Satanic Temple heard about the Oklahoma Ten Commandments display and proposed their own monument to Satan on the state capitol grounds as well.
Before any new monument can go into production, it has to be approved by the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Society. Duane Mass, the architect who designed the capitol building and serves on the preservation board, rejected the idea outright.
“That’s Oklahoma’s house. It’s not the Satanic club of New York’s house,” Mass said.
Lawmakers expressed similar sentiments.
“I think it is a joke,” said Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) to the Tulsa World.
“This is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state,” grumbled Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) to the World, perhaps forgetting that Satanism is also a faith. “I think it is very offensive they would contemplate or even have this kind of conversation.”
The ACLU doesn’t think so, however. The group filed to have the Ten Commandments monument removed on First Amendment grounds, alleging that the display of Christian iconography in a government workplace amounts of an endorsement of that religion over others.
If Oklahomans want to display symbols of faith on government property, said ACLU Oklahoma’s Ryan Kiesel to the World, they can’t play favorites.
“I think that our position is there shouldn’t be any religious monuments at the state Capitol, that anytime the government has a monument representing one faith it creates an atmosphere that is not welcoming to people of all faiths or non-believers,” said Kiesel.
“If, at the end of the day,” he said, “the Ten Commandments monument is allowed to remain on the Capitol grounds with its overtly Christian message, then the Satanic Temple’s proposal can’t be rejected because it is of a different religious viewpoint.”
Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, told the AP, “The whole point is that we’re a religiously pluralistic society, so if there’s going to be one, there will be others, or at least we’ll make the effort for such. Or there will be neither. Those are the only real options.”
The Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument has had an already eventful history. It was proposed in 2009 by Republicans in the state legislature. It was funded by state Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow), who donated $10,000, and an additional $10,000 obtained from private sources.
Democratic then-Gov. Brad Henry signed the law approving the monument, which the ACLU sued to have removed before it was even placed. Constitutional law professor Joseph Thai told the AP that allowing the Ten Commandments monument to stay in place puts the state in a legally vulnerable position.
“The state can disown the Ten Commandments monument erected at the Capitol with private funds as private speech, but then it cannot reject other privately donated religious monuments — even a satanic one — on the basis of viewpoint,” Thai explained.
When first erected in 2012, the Ten Commandments monument was found to contain multiple spelling errors, including the word “Sabbath” spelled as “Sabbeth” and “maidservant,” which was spelled “maidseruant.” The statue was removed and the errors corrected.
Christian conservatives have attempted to erect these types of monuments in various state houses across the country with varying degrees of success. The atheist group American Atheists, Inc. erected an atheist monument at the courthouse in Starke, FL, the first-ever atheist monument on U.S. government land. The group says it intends to erect more in every state in the union.