Monday, June 8, 2009

Oklahoma Religious 10-Commandment Monument Unconstitutional

Brandi Simons / AP
A federal lawsuit is seeking the removal of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the Haskell County courthouse in Stigler, Okla.

June 8, 2009
Ruling Prevents Government From Co-opting Religious Symbols, Church-State Watchdog Group Says

American United for Separation of Church and State today praised a federal appeals court for striking down a government display of the Ten Commandments in Haskell County, Okla.

Reversing a lower court, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared unconstitutional the eight-foot-tall religious display, which was erected at the local courthouse in 2004 after a campaign by a local minister and his supporters.

“This decision should send a clear message to politicians and religious leaders: Thou shalt not mix church and state,” observed the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Our courthouses should focus on the Constitution and civil law, not religious law.”

Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Green v. Haskell County Board of Commissioners case, noted that the monument displays the Protestant version of the Commandments and that it contains the text of the Mayflower Compact on the other side.

The appeals court traced the history of the monument, noting that commissioners frequently invoked religious language in defending it. One commissioner said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in this. I think it’s a benefit to the community.”

The appellate panel, composed of three George W. Bush appointees, ruled that most people would perceive the display of the monument and the battle to keep it up as religious efforts.

“We conclude, in the unique factual setting of a small community like Haskell County, that the reasonable observer would find that these facts tended to strongly reflect a government endorsement of religion,” wrote the court. “In particular, we find support for this conclusion in the public statements of the Haskell County commissioners.”

Lynn said the court made the right call.

“The display of religious documents like the Ten Commandments properly belongs to religious leaders, not government officials,” he said. “I hope county officials have learned an important lesson about launching ill-considered religious crusades.”

Lynn noted that Oklahoma legislators recently passed a law calling for a display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol. In light of this ruling, he said, lawmakers might want to reconsider the wisdom of that action.

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.

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Read the Appeal's Court Decision here:


  1. Oklahoma's Ten Commandment Monument law in hot water--

    It also authorizes the attorney general or the Liberty Legal Institute, a Texas-based legal advocacy group, to defend the monument if it's challenged in court.

  2. http://www.tulsawor article.aspx? subjectid= 13&articleid= 20090623_ 11_A7_DENVER4307 61

    County appeals monument ruling

    by: ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ World Correspondent
    Tuesday, June 23, 2009
    6/23/2009 4:09:25 AM

    DENVER — Haskell County commissioners contend that an appeals court was
    wrong when it ruled that a Ten Commandments monument on the county's
    courthouse lawn violates the U.S. Constitution.

    The commissioners ask — in a new filing with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of
    Appeals in Denver — for all 12 appellate judges to reconsider the June 8
    ruling by a three-judge panel of the court.

    That decision concluded that the 8-foot-tall monument in Stigler is
    unconstitutional because its primary effect is to endorse religion.

    The commissioners' new filing asserts that the ruling "directly conflicts"
    with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision that upheld a 6-foot-tall Ten
    Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas state Capitol.

    "In fact, this is the first and only circuit to strike down a Ten
    Commandments monument" after the 2005 decision, the commissioners assert.

    Through their attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, they state that
    three federal appeals courts in other parts of the country have upheld such

    The three-judge panel's ruling was the result of a challenge to the
    monument, erected in 2004 on the courthouse lawn. The challenge was brought
    by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and a Haskell County

    In seeking a rehearing, the commissioners also challenge the ruling's focus
    on public comments some of the commissioners made about their Christian
    beliefs' being a factor in their support of the monument.

    The new filing states that newspapers reported in 2004 that one commissioner
    said he would allow monuments reflecting documents from other faiths and
    that another commissioner said he did "not have a problem" if other faiths
    wanted a monument.

    The commissioners point out that a different appeals court in 1989 concluded
    that personal religious convictions expressed by school board officials
    about their votes on an issue did not violate the Constitution.

    The June 8 ruling "sets a perilous precedent for the constitutionality of
    future legislative acts in the Tenth Circuit," the commissioners assert.

    "For example, legislators who tell reporters that their vote to ban the
    death penalty is based on their personal religious convictions would make
    the law subject" to the same constitutional challenge used against the

    The appellate judges on Monday gave the ACLU until July 1 to respond to the
    request for a rehearing.

    The court, which covers Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and
    Wyoming, rarely grants requests to reconsider its decisions.


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