Oklahoma House passes measure on Ten Commandments monument

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House has adopted a resolution that asks voters to return a Ten Commandments monument to the Oklahoma Capitol grounds.

The House voted 86-10 for the measure Wednesday and sent it to the state Senate, which is also expected to adopt it.

The resolution calls for a statewide vote of the people on whether to abolish an article of the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the use of state funds to support a religion.

House Joint Resolution 1062, by state Rep. Randy Grau, removes a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides that “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

“When we learned that the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the Ten Commandments monument removed from the Capitol, everyone was surprised,” said Grau, R-Edmond, an attorney and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “The ruling went against clear legal precedent supporting the placement of such monuments on government property. Our state’s highest court  misinterpreted the Constitution, and we had no choice but to send the question to the people of Oklahoma regarding the public display of such monuments. Today, the House voted overwhelmingly to do that. ”

State Rep. John Paul Jordan says he is pleased with the measure’s passage.

“For me it was important to repeal Art. II, Sec. 5, not just for the Ten Commandments, but also because of the long ranging consequences of the State Supreme Court’s decision in Prescott will have.” said Jordan, R-Yukon, an attorney.  “The new interpretation of this provision can potentially make our state hostile to religion and have damaging impacts on our counties, cities and school districts. This impact has already been felt in Johnston County, where the ACLU filed a lawsuit based solely on Art. II, Sec. 5, and forced the removal of their Ten Commandments monument.”

The state Supreme Court relied on that constitutional requirement in June when it ordered a Ten Commandments monument removed from the Capitol grounds.

However, leaders with the ACLU say Wednesday’s ruling will send the case straight back to court.

“As we expected, the Oklahoma House of Representatives took time away from real issues Wednesday to hold a campaign rally dressed up as a Sunday School class. Members of both parties voted to move the state one step closer to Ten Commandments Litigation Part II. We applaud the ten members of the House who chose intellectual honesty over political expediency. Meanwhile, the budget crisis remains, the future of education is in peril, women continue to be marginalized, and health care remains an unaffordable luxury for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. Oklahoma can do better,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director ACLU of Oklahoma.

The 6-foot-tall granite monument was authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009 and was erected in 2012.

Its placement led other groups to seek their own statues.

If approved by the Senate, a state question will be submitted to the Secretary of State to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.

“This is a battle that belongs to the great people of Oklahoma,” Jordan said. “It’s up to them to  determine what they want:  Whether they want our state to follow the strict interpretation of  Art. II, Sec. 5, and its long ranging consequences or to strike it, reaping the benefits of protecting religious liberty and keeping the Ten Commandments monument.”

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