Suit Over Okla. Ten Commandments Monument Draws Support

Over 300 people led by a group of pastors rallied around a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of a courthouse in Tulsa, Okla., following a lawsuit claiming that the display is an endorsement of religion.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a local resident in Stigler, Okla. U.S. Senator Tom Coburn was present at the gathering on Saturday and expressed his support for such monuments.

“I wish this was in every courthouse on the lawn,” said Coburn, according to the Associated Press. “We need more of this, not less.”

The suit comes after two recent Supreme Court decisions expressing differing views regarding religious displays on public property. In the last term for the court, a Ten Commandments display in Kentucky was ruled illegal, while one on the grounds of a Texas courthouse was allowed.

"The Ten Commandments display has been situated on the county grounds for more than a year without any controversy,” said Mathew Staver, President and General Counsel of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel and the lawyer defending Haskell County in the lawsuit.

“The Ten Commandments are a universally recognized symbol of law. Public display of the Commandments is consistent with our Nation's history and with the First Amendment,” he said in a released statement.

The monument itself is eight-feet-tall, and made of stone. It is displayed on the courthouse lawn, facing the street. The Board of County Commissioners voted in September of 2004 place it there.

Mike Bush, a pastor from Stigler who helped raise money to buy the display was also present and said his “heart is thankful” to see the support for the monument.

“All our laws are based on the ten laws up here on our courthouse lawn,” he said.

The ACLU alleges that there was religious intent behind their decision to place it there. Although it has not identified the commissioner it quotes one as saying that the decision to allow it had to do with siding with a Christian majority “who too often have let the minority tell them what to do.”

Jim Green, a retired veteran who lives in Haskell County is opposing the display. He believes that the monument not only violates the constitution but also trivializes religion, according to a statement from the ACLU, which is representing him.

“I have no objection to the Ten Commandments, and the monument itself is in good taste, but it does not belong at the courthouse,” said Green.

Staver says that if the Ten Commandments were an establishment of religion, that its removal would have happened by now.

“History is the best predictor that displaying the Ten Commandments is a permissible acknowledgement, rather than an establishment, of religion,” he said.

In the Supreme Court decision allowing the Texas monument to remain on the grounds of the state capitol, Justice Stephen Breyer concluded that the display did not convey a primarily religious message, since it had been in place for 40 years without apparent objection, and because there were many other monuments and historic markers on the ground.

Staver notes that the monument in Oklahoma had been around one year before the lawsuit was filed in October 2005, and that there are other memorials on the grounds of the Haskell County courthouse.