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Oklahoma Attorney General Battles Atheists to Keep Ten Commandments on Capitol Grounds

Decalogue
A Ten Commandments display erected in 2012 on the grounds of the state Capitol Building of Oklahoma City, Okla. |

Oklahoma's attorney general has decided to continue the effort to keep a Ten Commandments display on state Capitol grounds.

In a brief filed Thursday, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt argued that a recent state Supreme Court decision against the display creates a climate of anti-religious hostility.

"Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, as interpreted by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as applied to the Ten Commandments monument, now evinces such an extreme hostility to anything religious that it violates the Establishment Clause," reads the brief.

"This decision, therefore, does not merely require neutrality among religions, mandating the state treat all religions (and nonreligion) equally and approach them on a level playing field. Rather, Article II, Section 5 now requires affirmative discrimination against religion, effectively requiring the state to countenance only secularism and prefer in all respects nonreligion over religion."

In a statement released Thursday, Pruitt said the state's highest court has set a precedent that involves the censorship of all religious expression on government property.

"In its decision to remove the monument, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that no matter how historically significant or beneficial to the state, state law prohibits any item on state property or to be funded by the state if it's at all 'religious in nature,'" stated Pruitt.

"That declaration prohibits manifestations of faith from the public square in such a way as to create hostility toward religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, we are asking the district court to allow the state to amend its original answer so we may fully address this new concern."

In 2012, a privately funded Ten Commandments monument was installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol.

The decalogue display came three years after a bill was passed allowing for monuments to be installed at the Capitol provided they fulfill certain standards.

In August 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the display, arguing that it was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

American Atheists also filed suit and the New York-based Satanic Temple attempted to get a satanic display erected on the same property, arguing equal access.

In September 2014, Oklahoma County District Judge Thomas Prince ruled in favor of the display, concluding that, as with other displays at the Capitol, the Ten Commandments blended historical and spiritual significance.

On June 30, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against the monument, arguing that it violated the state constitution.

"The plain intent of Article 2, Section 5 is to ban state government, its officials, and its subdivisions from using public money or property for the benefit of any religious purpose," read the decision.

"Because the monument at issue operates for the use, benefit or support of a sect or system of religion, it violates Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma constitution and is enjoined and shall be removed."

Brady Henderson, legal affairs director for the ACLU of Oklahoma, told local media that he believed the Pruitt brief was "provocative and abusive of the court process."

"I've never seen anything like it and would say most lawyers haven't, as well … It's a motion asking for a complete do-over of the case," said Henderson to newsok.com.

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