Debate In Oklahoma Widens Over 10 Commandments Monument

Jul 9, 2015
Originally published on July 9, 2015 6:53 pm
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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's an argument that's been going on for decades at different spots around the country. Do displays of the Ten Commandments belong on public property? The latest debate is in Oklahoma. Lawmakers there are threatening to impeach the state Supreme Court after it ruled that a monument on the Capitol grounds has to go. Rachel Hubbard from member station KOSU reports.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: Every week, Ralph Beall gives tours of the Oklahoma Capitol building, starting with the state seal emblazoned on the marble floors.

RALPH BEALL: And as you'll notice, in the five portions around the star, there's nine gold stars. Those represent the 45 states that became a state before Oklahoma did.

HUBBARD: The tour covers the art and history inside the building. But the place it doesn't take you is here. Nestled behind some trees on the back side of the building is Oklahoma's Ten Commandments monument. The 6 foot tall piece of rose granite has been controversial since 2009, when a state legislator got permission to pay for it himself. And in 2012, it went up on Capitol grounds. Ryan Kiesel is with ACLU Oklahoma, which has challenged the biblical monument.

RYAN KIESEL: This monument has been nothing but divisive. It has divided Oklahomans along political lines. It has divided the Oklahomans along religious lines. And that's exactly what the founders in our state constitution and the founders, frankly, in the federal Constitution sought to protect against.

HUBBARD: And in the last two weeks, that division has gotten worse. On June 30, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument had to come down. Justices said it violated a section of the Oklahoma Constitution that says the state can't use its money or property to benefit any religion. In this state, that didn't go over very well. Some legislators started calling for the impeachment of the Supreme Court for judicial activism. But Republican Representative John Paul Jordan didn't think that would solve anything.

JOHN PAUL JORDAN: The conclusion I came to was that even if we were to impeach seven out of nine justices, we would have the same wreck, just a different train.

HUBBARD: So this week, Jordan filed a bill that would allow a public vote to remove the section of the Oklahoma Constitution that the court says the monument violates. The governor then issued a statement saying the Ten Commandments will remain at the Capitol while all legal appeals and constitutional changes are considered. Some, including the ACLU, say if the governor really means that, it would be contempt of court, setting up what may be another legal battle over the display of the Ten Commandments on public property. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Hubbard in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.