Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to abolish an article of the state constitution so that a Ten Commandments monument can be returned to the Capitol grounds.
The House has voted 65-7 for a resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to remove a constitutional prohibition on the use of state funds to support a religion.
The state Supreme Court relied on that section of the constitution in June when it ordered a 6-foot-tall granite Ten Commandments monument moved from the Capitol grounds.
The monument’s removal angered many Oklahomans, particularly Republican lawmakers who vowed to return the monument to state property.
“Since the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in June regarding the Ten Commandments monument, my constituents wanted to know what could be done,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, an attorney who sponsored the bill in the House. “I knew it would be a difficult proposition to undo the ruling, so we looked at giving voters the opportunity to remove the basis for the ruling.”
Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.
Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represented Prescott, has vowed another challenge in federal court if the statue is returned. ACLU Oklahoma’s Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, a former Democratic lawmaker, has accused GOP lawmakers of using the monument as a political gimmick.
Even if the Oklahoma voters decide to amend the constitution and return the monument to the Statehouse, Kiesel said it’s likely a challenge would prevail under the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma taxpayers would be stuck footing the legal bill.