By now, everyone in Oklahoma is probably aware of the monument to satan that a New York based satanic group wants to have placed at our Capitol building. A drawing of the proposed monument is of a bearded, goat headed demon sitting on a throne adorned with a pentagram, with smiling children on either side. If you want to see a picture of it you can easily find it on the internet but I won’t have it on my blog. The statue is a response to the privately funded Ten Commandments monument that was placed on the north steps of the Oklahoma Capitol building in 2012. Before the concrete was even dry, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to have the monument removed. The satanic temple says the Oklahoma Legislature’s decision to allow the Ten Commandments monument opened the door for any privately funded monument. Other requests to place monuments have come from a Hindu leader in Nevada and a group called the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission has placed a moratorium on considering new requests until the ACLU’s lawsuit is adjudicated.
From what I have read and heard, most people think of this as purely a separation of church and state issue, but some decisions by the Supreme Court lead me to believe that there’s another element to it and that Oklahoma may be able to prevail.
There are two recent Supreme Court decisions that will probably be used by the courts as the lawsuit makes its way through the system – McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky and Van Orden v. Perry. Both were similar cases dealing with public displays of the Ten Commandments and both decisions were handed down on the same day, June 27, 2005. Both decisions were 5-4, but one display was ruled constitutional while the other was ruled unconstitutional. Justice Stephen Breyer was the swing vote and ruled in Van Orden v. Perry that a Ten Commandments monument on display at the Texas State Capitol was constitutional because it had stood for over forty years without controversy and that its location was among other monuments around the state capitol that showed the religious content was part of a “broader moral and historical message.” In McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky Breyer voted with the majority, which ruled the display was unconstitutional because it “violated the First Amendment’s bar against establishment of religion.” In the McCreary case, the display was new and was not interspersed with others that could lead the display to be seen as secular and historical rather than religious.
Another case, seemingly more relevant, is Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. Summum is a ‘religion’ that began in 1975 when Claude “Corky” Nowell claimed he had an encounter with beings he called “Summa Individuals.” Nowell said the beings gave him concepts regarding the nature of creation and he started the Summum ‘church’ in order to share the concepts with others. Pleasant Grove City allowed privately donated monuments, including the Ten Commandments, to be displayed on public property, but refused to accept one from Summum. The Court ruled unanimously on February 25, 2009 that Pleasant Grove City had the right to accept one privately funded monument but refuse another, such action being a valid expression of government speech. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that “the display of a permanent monument in a public park” is perceived by a reasonable person as an expression of values and ideas of the government, the owner of the park and the monument. Justice Alito noted that if government was forced to accept all monuments regardless of content, the government would be in the position of either presenting conflicting messages that do not represent the values and ideals of the community or removing all monuments from public space.
I cannot imagine a more conflicting message on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol than having a monument to the devil being placed near a monument of the Ten Commandments.
Should it reach the point where the monument to the devil has to be allowed if the Ten Commandments monument remains, I would sincerely hope that the Ten Commandments monument is removed and no monuments are allowed. Better that than to have a statue of the devil on our capitol grounds. Oklahoma would be a nationwide laughingstock.
In addition to opposing the Ten Commandments monument on the basis of separation of church and state, I have also noted that there is anger from some over the funds that will be spent by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office to defend the state against the ACLU’s lawsuit. While I am also not happy that the AG’s office has to spend tax dollars defending against this lawsuit, I wholeheartedly support doing so and hope every effort is made to defeat this lawsuit. Yes, it would be much simpler and cheaper to not have the Ten Commandments monument at all. But doing so would be waving the white flag at the ACLU, the satan worshippers and the spaghetti wackos. Surrendering the right of the government, elected by the people, to display monuments reflecting our values and ideals and dedicated to our Judeo-Christian heritage is completely unacceptable. For too long people have fought against anything with a religions connotation being allowed to be displayed on public property or even voiced at the local school. They have had way too much success. This monument is an opportunity to reaffirm our state’s values and to let the ACLU and others know that not everyone will capitulate to their attempts to dictate what can and cannot be displayed in public.
I have heard the attitude expressed, even from those who support the monument, that the legislature should have had enough sense to know they would have to face a lawsuit and that they should just not have put the monument there in the first place. I do not share that sentiment. Allowing fear of a lawsuit to be the deciding factor in whether or not to display a monument is to let the ACLU, et al, to have power and control over our community without them having to even lift a finger. If we as a community, a city or a state value our heritage and ideals enough to display monuments reflecting them, then we should value them enough to fight for them.