For Immediate Release
Americans United Urges Oklahoma Governor to Veto Ten Commandments Bill
WASHINGTON - Americans United for Separation of Church and State today advised
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry to veto a legislative measure that would
authorize a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state
"The Ten Commandments are a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian
faiths, but not for all Oklahomans," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn,
executive director of Americans United. "The government cannot endorse
one religious belief over others, nor can it prefer religion over
non-religion. The legislature did exactly that when it approved this
monument, and it's begging for a legal challenge.
"Moreover, there are significant differences in the text and meaning
of the Commandments even for Christians and Jews," Lynn continued.
"Should the state really be in the business of debating these
theological differences? I don't think so."
Oklahoma legislators initially discussed the possibility that an
"Oklahoma version" of the Decalogue would be displayed, but the law
instead mandates a Protestant version.
HB 1330 calls for the monument to be modeled after the Commandments
monument that was at issue in a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case. In the Van Orden v. Perry
decision, the court held that since the Texas monument sat in a park
for 40 years with 17 other monuments and 21 historical markers and had
sparked little controversy, it was constitutional.
Americans United said the measure's supporters are on the wrong
track. Just because the proposed Oklahoma monument uses the same text
as the Texas monument does not make it constitutional.
In a letter
to Gov. Henry, AU asserted, "The setting at the Oklahoma Capitol is not
at all like that of the park setting with over two dozen monuments and
markers at the Texas Capitol. And even if the Ten Commandments monument
is placed along with the three other monuments on the Capitol grounds,
this does not mean that the shrine would be constitutional."
The letter to Henry was signed by AU Legislative Counsel Dena Sher;
Bruce Prescott, Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists; and Northeast Oklahoma AU
Chapter President Karl Sniderman.
In McCreary v. ACLU of Ky., which was decided on the same day as Van Orden,
the court struck down a Kentucky Commandments monument because it was
not part of a comprehensive display of historical monuments and
markers, as in Texas.
Oklahoma's Capitol grounds include only three monuments - an oil
derrick, a cowboy riding a bucking bronco, and a Native American woman.
"It would be impossible to integrate a shrine with religious text
into this display in order to convey an overall secular message," the
AU letter noted. "The proposed Ten Commandments monument would not be
like the one approved by the Court in Texas and would not likely convey
a secular message, and would therefore be unconstitutional."
According to news reports, Oklahoma Rep. Mike Ritze, author of the
bill and an ally of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, said he
would pay for the monument with his private funds.
AU's letter informs Gov. Henry that the high court recently held
permanent monuments on public land, whether paid for with public or
private funds, are considered government speech and must comply with
the Constitution's promise to keep church and state separate.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in
Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans
about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding
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Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.