On the grounds of the Capitol building in Oklahoma City there stands a stone monument of the Ten Commandments, privately funded by state legislator Mike Ritze. Being such an obvious target for leftist forces, complaints where made and lawsuits filed. The debate made it all the way to the State Supreme Court which recently ruled that the statue must be removed. But at least for the time being, Governor Mary Fallin says that it’s not going anywhere.
Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday said the Ten Commandments monument will stay at the Capitol despite a court ruling that said it violated the state Constitution and must be removed.
Fallin said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reconsider its 7-2 decision, which was handed down last week after a challenge by the ACLU of Oklahoma on behalf of three plaintiffs.
In addition, lawmakers have filed legislation to let people vote on whether to remove a portion of the state Constitution cited in the ruling.
Fallin is drawing a lot of cheers in conservative circles for taking a stand here, but her answers don’t seem to denote an intention to simply defy the orders of the court and forget the matter exists. What she’s effectively doing is issuing a stay on the high court’s ruling while further options are explored. (Some of you lawyers can chime in on this one, hopefully. I was unaware that the executive branch could issue stays, that typically being a function for a judge.) But in any event, for the moment the statue will stay put. Whether or not the court will feel compelled to turn around and reconsider a decision that it just finished rendering is another question.
The second part of the delay is more interesting. The court’s ruling is based on a portion of the state constitution which really couldn’t be any more clearly worded if you tried.
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such,” according to the Oklahoma Constitution.
Now, the public money portion is off limits since the statue was privately funded. But it’s most definitely sitting on public property. And the statue itself is, I’m guessing, public property also, since it was donated to the state by Representative Ritze. So that leaves us with the question of whether or not it was donated…, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion. Clearly the state’s high court felt that this test was met and I’m not sure how you appeal that.
But in the meantime the Governor’s office wants to have a vote to see if the citizens want to amend the constitution to remove that clause. If they did then the court’s ruling would almost undoubtedly have to change, since that’s the leg they are standing on in the decision. But how long would it take to amend the constitution? And what of the court’s order while that process plays out?
This is definitely going to be one to watch. We’re seeing more and more discussions these days – involving other issues as far afield as gay marriage and EPA regulations – where the branches of the government are slugging it out and public figures are debating the limits of the power of the courts and the ability of the other two branches to fight them. In Oklahoma a Supreme Court has issued a ruling which should be generating an order from the County District Court for the statue to be removed. And if the Governor still says no at that point, well… then we’ve got what some old timers refer to as a genuine constitutional crisis on our hands, playing out on the state level instead of the federal. In that case we will be living to see interesting times indeed.