POLITICS
07/07/2015 07:24 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2015

Defiant Oklahoma Governor Says Ten Commandments Monument Will Stay On State Capitol Grounds

WASHINGTON -- Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), apparently defying a state Supreme Court ruling, has ordered that a monument to the Ten Commandments remain on the grounds of the state capitol.

Fallin on Tuesday said the monument was staying while the state attorney general appeals last week's 7-2 decision declaring that the monument was unconstitutional because public property cannot be used for religious purposes. Legislators opposed to the ruling are considering amending the state constitution to allow the monument to stay.

"Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions. However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government," Fallin said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit challenging the monument and pursued it to the state Supreme Court, shrugged off Fallin's comments. Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told The Huffington Post he doesn't think the governor's statement disobeys the court decision.

"We fully expect the state to respect the rule of law and comply with the court's decision," Mach said.

Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said if Fallin defies the court decision, it would amount to "chaos."

"She hasn't violated her oath yet, but she has made a statement that she's willing to do so," Henderson said. "The highest elected official in the state is essentially saying, 'I am willing to break the law.' My hope is very much that this is political grandstanding."

For Fallin to actually defy the decision, she would have to issue an executive order, because the Capitol Preservation Commission controls the capitol grounds, and the lawsuit concerned the commission, not the governor's office or the state legislature, Henderson explained.

"At the end of the day, I don't think it's the governor's decision," Henderson said.

The American Humanist Association, which advocates for the separation of church and state, denounced Fallin's statement.

"It's deeply disturbing that Gov. Fallin would break the law, brazenly defying the state's highest court in order to further her personal religious agenda," executive director Roy Speckhardt said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "The display of such an overtly religious monument violates the Constitution and makes individuals of minority faiths and philosophies feel like second-class citizens in their own state."

The controversial Ten Commandments monument was donated by state Rep. Mike Ritze (R) and installed in 2012. It has been the subject of many debates over the separation of church and state.

The Oklahoma constitution says that "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."

State Rep. John Paul Jordan (R), who supports a constitutional amendment that would repeal this provision, told a local television station that the provision was "toxic." “It was written with discrimination in mind, and like a malignant tumor, needs to be removed completely," he said.

Jordan claimed the constitutional provision jeopardizes other commemorative items in the state capitol building, such as Native American artwork. He suggested it applies to people who have purchased health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and who receive health care at religious hospitals.

"It could possibly lead to the Native American artwork in the Capitol and State Supreme Court buildings being removed, as much of it is religious in nature," Jordan said. "In addition, it could lead to individuals on state funded insurance programs being unable to receive medical care as a large portion of hospitals in Oklahoma are supported by a religious affiliation."

Henderson accused the legislators of waging what he called a "campaign of disinformation."

"Right now, in the heat of the moment, it's easy for people to believe those outlandish things," he said.

Oklahoma voters would have to approve or reject the constitutional amendment if it moves forward in the legislature. That vote would not occur until November 2016, because the legislature's next session begins in February. Henderson said he hopes that if the amendment comes up for a vote, voters would have time to become more informed about the issue and the constitutional provision.

Meanwhile, the state attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to rehear the case.

Mach said he doubted the court would grant the appeal. "The court got it right the first time, and there's no reason to think that it would change its mind," he said.

HuffPost

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