Ten Commandments monument to come down soon
BY RHETT MORGAN World Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
3/02/10 at 3:36 AM
STIGLER — A Ten Commandments monument erected on Haskell County courthouse grounds in 2004 could be removed within the week, an attorney representing the county said.
The news comes after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a dispute over the religious marker.
The justices let stand a lower court decision that the monument must go. A federal appeals court ruled last year that it amounts to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the county commission.
U.S. District Judge Ronald White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma had ordered the monument removed from the property in a document dated in August. White originally had ruled the monument constitutional, but his ruling was overturned by the appeals court.
"Obviously, it's got to come down," said Kevin Theriot of the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the Haskell County commissioners. "The commissioners have already taken steps to comply with that."
Theriot said commissioners are examining removal bids and considering the best place to store the 8-foot-tall stone monument.
In 2005, the high court said in two cases that determining whether the Ten Commandments could be displayed on government property was a case-by-case affair.
"The commissioners are really disappointed, as are we, that the Supreme Court didn't use this case to try to clear up the confusion here," Theriot said. "The danger is that, religious speech like on the monument, that was donated by a private individual and paid for by a private individual and displayed with other privately donated monuments, is now going to be marginalized."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit against the commissioners on behalf of a Stigler resident in 2005. The petition said the marker should be removed because it promotes the Christian faith to the exclusion of all other religions.
"What people need to understand is that there are thousands of places within Haskell County where this monument can be placed," a Norman-based ACLU attorney, Michael Salem, said. "Our job is not to tell them where to put the monument. Our job is to tell them simply where the monument should not be put."
A local pastor, Mike Bush, spearheaded a proposal to get the monument erected.
"If someone tried to block them from putting the monument in some suitable private location, we would defend Mr. Bush's right to have the monument placed in a place like that," Salem said. "Neutrality works both ways, and that would certainly be a right of religious free expression that we would defend. This is not an anti-religious viewpoint.
"Government neutrality is not hostility to religion. It's merely neutral."
Rhett Morgan 581-8395