Ten Commandments monuments stand outside courthouses and statehouses all across the USA. They go back to the beginning of our country. This is fitting, since the legal structure of the Western world is built on those ten commandments.
For the first two hundred years of our republic, the only controversy was an occasional argument about whether the monument would be made of marble or granite. But for the past 30 years pressure groups have been working to drive religious expression from the public sphere.
The United States Supreme Court stopped them from acting as an American Taliban, blowing up historic monuments and statues because they had religious meaning attached to them. Otherwise, I suppose they would have kept going until they demanded that we burn the Declaration of Independence for its allusion to “Our Creator.”
Federal courts have upheld the placement of Ten Commandments monuments in states such as Texas. Oklahoma State Representative Mike Ritze assumed that a Ten Commandments monument that was identical to one that passed court muster in Texas would be allowed in Oklahoma.
Rep Ritz is the primary author of the legislation authorizing the monument. Rep Ritz was passionate about this bill. He was so committed to it that he even paid for the monument with his own money and donated it to the state as a gift.
I was a member of the Oklahoma House when we voted on it. Rep Ryan Kiesel, who is now the executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU, led the debate against the bill.
Without Rep Kiesel, I don’t think there would have been any debate at all. But he successfully convinced a number of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus that this bill was unconstitutional under the Constitution of the United States of America. They followed him in opposing the monument, and several of them were defeated because of it in the next election. Rep Kiesel did not run for re-election.
It turned out that Rep Kiesel was wrong. The monument was not unconstitutional under the Constitution of the United States of America.
That’s why the same Rep Kiesel chose another line of attack in his new position as Executive Director of the Oklahoma ACLU. Rather than attack the monument in federal court, where they would lose, the ACLU took the case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, where they knew they had sympathetic judges.
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court had already become the go-to place for abortion advocates who wanted to challenge pro life laws that would otherwise be upheld in the federal courts. The Oklahoma court routinely rules that pro life laws are unconstitutional.
They rule against pro life laws, even when they are identical to laws from other states that have been upheld in the federal courts. This has become so predictable that pro abortion advocates don’t challenge Oklahoma’s pro life laws in the federal courts. They go directly to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, instead.
The ACLU challenged the Ten Commandments monument under a section in the Oklahoma Constitution that forbids using public monies for religious activity. That didn’t seem to apply in this case, since Rep Ritz paid for the statue and gave it to the state as a gift. The monument didn’t cost anything, just standing there.
However, the court ruled that the monument violated this section of the Constitution. I think the ruling is wrong. But I don’t sit on the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. The cherry on top is that the state had to pay $4700 to have the monument removed.
The question now is what should we do about all this?
Legislators are talking about a Constitutional amendment to repeal the section the court used in its ruling. That might have unintended consequences. We need to think about it carefully before we do it. Attempts to change the way that supreme court justices are nominated have failed to pass the legislature several times. The reason is that legislators justifiably fear a takeover of the judiciary by special interests.
However, none of this is really necessary.
Okies have the chance to vote on whether or not their supreme court justices will be retained on the court. This is a yes/no vote that appears on ballots in general elections. It literally reads “Should Justice John Doe be retained?”
This “retention ballot” is not ballyhooed. Many voters may not be aware they have this power. But the fact is, We the People can kick these justices off the bench, just by voting “no.”
In my opinion, it’s time for Okies to use the power of their vote and retire a few of these folks.