Despite an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling last week that a 10 Commandments monument on Capitol grounds violates the state’s Constitution and must be removed, Gov. Mary Fallin said the statue won’t be budging anytime soon.
The Republican released a statement on Tuesday calling the court decision “impermissible,” and that the decision was “deeply disturbing to many in our legislature, many in the general public, and to me.” Fallin said the monument will remain in place during a legal appeals process and while potential legislative options are also being considered.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court had decided, however, in a 7-2 decision that the monument violated Article 2, Section 5 of the state’s Constitution, which prohibits the use of public property “for the benefit of any religious purpose.” While the statue was paid privately by GOP Rep. Mike Ritze and erected in 2012, the court said the statue was obviously religious in nature and that it’s “an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma – which represented three plaintiffs in the case—had argued the monument sent a message to some Oklahomans that they were less than equal because of their religious beliefs.
Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the ACLU Oklahoma chapter, told msnbc that he was baffled by Fallin’s decision. “We were astonished that the governor would pretend she has the authority to enforce laws that may exist in some hypothetical future instead of doing her job and enforcing the law as it exists today,” said Kiesel.
Still, Fallin said Attorney General Scott Pruitt, with her support, has already filed a petition requesting a re-hearing of the case. In addition, some in the Legislature have indicated they will pursue changes to the state Constitution to clearly indicate the monument is legal.
Michael McNutt, a spokesperson for the governor, told msnbc that there is no deadline for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not they will re-hear the case. In terms of the legislative route, lawmakers would have to decide whether or not to put forth a ballot question to voters to weigh in on whether or not to appeal Article 2, section 5 of the state Constitution. That ballot initiative would likely take place in November 2016 and would require a simple majority vote, explained McNutt.
“The Ten Commandments monument was built to recognize and honor the historical significance of the Commandments in our state’s and nation’s systems of laws,” Fallin argued in a statement. “The monument was built and maintained with private dollars. It is virtually identical to a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, which the United States Supreme Court rule to be permissible. It is a privately funded tribute to historical events, not a taxpayer funded endorsement of any religion, as some have alleged,” she added.
Kiesel said the ACLU was preparing to respond to the state’s motion asking the Supreme Court for a re-hearing, something he anticipates will be denied. After that, he explained, a district court would lay out steps to officially remove the statue. “I would be surprised, at that point [if the governor] actively stood in the way of a lawful order of the court.”
“This is not how a Democracy works,” Kiesel continued. “You have to enforce the law as it exists today. Governors do not have the luxury to say ‘well I think the law may be different and to my liking at a future date, so that’s the law I’m going to enforce.”