LeFlore County commissioners put Ten Commandments monument proposal on hold
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
12/04/12 at 7:59 AM
POTEAU - A revived proposal to install a Ten Commandments monument at the LeFlore County Courthouse is on hold until legal questions surrounding a similar monument at the state Capitol are settled, a county official said.
LeFlore County Commissioners Lance Smith and Ceb Scott tabled a Nov. 5 request to consider the proposal because the third commissioner, Derwin Gist, was not at the meeting and Smith wanted to confer with the District Attorney's Office.
Commissioners decided to hold off indefinitely after the American Civil Liberties Union said it may sue the state over the monument installed Nov. 15 on Capitol grounds, Smith said.
"We would really like to put (the monument) up on our grounds, but at the same time, we have to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money," he said. "We're just going to hold off right now and wait to see how this turns out."
Ryan Kiesel, the ACLU's Oklahoma director, told the Tulsa World on Monday that his group is still deciding whether to file a lawsuit and is examining the constitutionality of the Capitol's monument.
The LeFlore County proposal has been on hold since a federal judge ruled in June 2009 that a Ten Commandments monument outside the courthouse in Stigler in neighboring Haskell County was a government endorsement of religion.
LeFlore County commissioners had approved a similar monument for their courthouse in Poteau two months earlier.
Supporters raised $15,000 to buy two stone tablets, which they installed in January 2010 at Community State Bank in Poteau. The monument was later moved to a lot owned by Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary Unit 63 near a Braum's restaurant in Poteau.
Charlie Horsley said he asked commissioners to reconsider a courthouse monument on behalf of former Poteau Mayor Don Barnes, who has pursued it for years but has recently had health problems.
Horsley, commander of the Disabled American Veterans unit, seeks to move the existing monument or buy a new one with a donation offered by Community State Bank.
The state Capitol monument seems to validate the proposal, he said.
"I think there's no problem because of the one the state Capitol just put up," he said. "There's no reason why we can't. It's just a matter of stepping up."
He argues that the commandments - particularly those not to murder, steal or bear false witness - are not an endorsement of religion because they influenced the development of American laws.
Smith said he supports Horsley's proposal but that a lawsuit would cost the county too much.
A clause in the courthouse property's original title also means the county could lose any land that bears a monument, Smith said. When Poteau donated the land to the county decades ago, it included a provision that ownership would revert to the city if the property is not used for a courthouse, he said.
"We're just kind of in neutral right now," he said. "It's something I'd like to do at some time in the future, but I want to wait and use some of this other information."
If the county does revisit the proposal, "I think the majority of the people here would be for it and would stand strongly behind it," he said.
"We're just an old Christian-based community, and our values and our faith ... have always been really strong."
The state Legislature authorized the state Capitol's monument in 2009. It was purchased with $20,000 donated by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, and others.
World Capitol Bureau Writer Barbara Hoberock contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: LeFlore monument on hold
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486