Atheist Group Sues to Remove 2,000 Pound Okla. Ten Commandments Display From Capitol Grounds

A New Jersey-based atheist organization has filed a lawsuit calling for the removal of a 2,000 pound Ten Commandments display from the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol in Oklahoma City.

American Atheists filed the suit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against the Oklahoma State Capitol Preservation Commission that placed the monument at the capitol in 2012.

"This action challenges the constitutionality, under federal law, of the state of Oklahoma's placement of a massive monument displaying an abridgement of a portion of religious text originating from a Hollywood movie director's rendition of one of many versions from the Bible," reads the suit in part.

"The display was placed on the grounds of the state capitol building…which plaintiffs contend is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment."

In a statement released Monday, American Atheists' Public Relations Director Dave Muscato argued that the issue with the monument was due to it being placed on government property.

"If this monument were on privately owned land -- say, in front of a church -- there would be no legal conflict," said Muscato.

"But by placing this monument, or any religious monuments on government land, we have government endorsement, which is explicitly unconstitutional."

The one ton Ten Commandments display was placed on the grounds of the capitol in 2012, paid for and proposed in 2009 by state Republican Rep. Mike Ritze.

"[T]he Ten Commandments are an important component of the foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the state of Oklahoma," read the legislation approving the monument in part.

"…[C]ourts of the United States of America and of various states frequently cite the Ten Commandments in published decisions, and acknowledgements of the role played by the Ten Commandments in our nation's heritage are common throughout America."

American Atheists is not the first organization to file suit against the Ten Commandments. Last August, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of a local Baptist minister.

Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma's executive director, said in a statement last year that the Oklahoma monument "as created a more divisive and hostile state for many Oklahomans."

"When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal," said Kiesel.

Defenders of the display, including Charlie Meadows, president of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee, have countered that the Ten Commandments has a historic value that allows for its posting.

"The monument on the grounds of our state capitol is in place as a tribute to the historical significance the Ten Commandments have played as the foundation of America's and Oklahoma's legal system as well as those common sense values many of the people in Oklahoma live by today," said Meadows in an earlier interview with CP.

The lawsuits by American Atheists and the ACLU are not the only controversies facing the Ten Commandments monument.

A recent effort on the part of a Satanist group to get a monument erected next to the Ten Commandments has also been launched.

The 7-foot-tall Baphomet statue proposal has presently been on hold pending the outcome of the legal action by the ACLU back in August.

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