OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday said the Ten Commandments monument will stay at the Capitol despite a court ruling that said it violated the state Constitution and must be removed.
Fallin said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reconsider its 7-2 decision, which was handed down last week after a challenge by the ACLU of Oklahoma on behalf of three plaintiffs.
In addition, lawmakers have filed legislation to let people vote on whether to remove a portion of the state Constitution cited in the ruling. Article II, Section 5 of the constitution reads:
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such,” according to the Oklahoma Constitution.
The court said the monument was obviously religious in nature and an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths. The constitution bans the state from using public money or property for the benefit of any religious purpose, according to the opinion.
The monument was privately funded by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow.
“Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions,” Fallin said. “However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government.”
In her decision to let the monument stay, Fallin cited the petition for rehearing and legislation seeking to let people vote on amending the constitution.
“During this process, which will involve both legal appeals and potential legislative and constitutional changes, the Ten Commandments monument will remain on the Capitol grounds.”
Alex Weintz, a Fallin spokesman, said she is not ignoring the ruling, but giving the other branches of government a chance to weigh in on the issue.
He was asked if Fallin would refuse a court order to remove the monument. Weintz said he couldn’t answer that question at this time because an appeal is pending and no district court order has been issued to remove the monument. He said if the state lost its appeal, and a district court ordered the monument be removed, the governor’s office would address the question at that time.
Fallin does not get to enforce the laws of the “hypothetical future,” said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma executive director. She is charged with enforcing the law as it exists today, he said.
If the court retains its position after the motion for rehearing, the matter goes back to Oklahoma County District Court for proceedings consistent with the original order from the court that the monument be removed, Kiesel said.
“The Supreme Court did not give any leeway in their opinion. The bipartisan, seven-member majority did not say remove the monument except if you look into your crystal ball and think the law might allow it at some point in the future and go ahead and keep it,” Kiesel said. “The court said remove the monument.”
Kiesel said that looking at national trends, he can see a time when marijuana will be legal in Oklahoma, but he is not going to open a shop tomorrow.
Fallin is not named as the defendant but has three appointees to the body that is named defendant in the suit, the 15-member Capitol Preservation Commission. The panel was directed by the Legislature to find a suitable location at the Capitol for the monument’s placement.
Kiesel said Fallin’s statement doesn’t mean she plans to defy a court order.
“Frankly, I would be astonished if we get to a point where the governor outright defies an order of our state’s highest court,” Kiesel said. “That said, if she does, there is a word for it. It is called contempt.”
Fallin and other elected officials take an oath of office to uphold the constitution.
A constitutional amendment could be put on the ballot sooner than the November 2016 elections, according to state law.
Kiesel said a plaintiff could make a case that the monument’s placement on the state Capitol grounds violates the U.S. Constitution. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt disagrees, saying the federal constitution would allow for such a monument at the Capitol.
As a result of the court ruling, some lawmakers have suggested impeaching the justices who voted for it.
“Just because you don’t agree with the decision of a court, it doesn’t mean the remedy should be impeachment,” Pruitt said. “I don’t think impeachment is in order.”
The Satanic Temple had sought to put a monument next to the Ten Commandments monument. Its co-founder and spokesman, Lucien Greaves, also known as Doug Mesner, said if the constitutional provision is removed, his organization will renew its request.
He said Oklahoma lawmakers are claiming the monument is historical, but also saying the decision is an attack on religious freedom.
He accused Fallin of overreaching her authority.