First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Oklahoma we’ve been watching, involving state officials endorsing a Christian monument at the state Capitol – even after the state Supreme Court ruled that the government-sponsored Ten Commandments statue had to be moved to private property.
As regular readers may recall, it wasn’t a close call – the state Supreme Court’s justices ruled 7-2 that the six-foot-high, stone Christian display honoring the Ten Commandments, endorsed by elected officials in 2009, is plainly at odds with the state constitution that requires state government to be neutral on matters of religion. About a week ago, as the Tulsa World reported, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) filed “a new legal argument” in defense of government-sponsored religion.
Pruitt’s latest legal filing in Oklahoma County District Court argues that the June 30 ruling is hostile to religion and therefore violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.“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 is at all ‘religious in nature,’ ” Pruitt said.He said the ruling prohibits manifestations of faith from the public square and creates hostility toward religion.
Think about that for a minute. If state government isn’t allowed to choose an official religious text, and endorse a monument to that faith – at the state Capitol – above all other religious traditions, then in the mind of state AG, the Oklahoma Constitution is unconstitutional.
To be neutral on matters of faith, Pruitt argued, is – practically by definition – to be hostile on matters of faith.
This bizarre, self-defeating argument not surprisingly failed miserably and was quickly rejected in court. KWTV in Oklahoma City reported yesterday that a lower-court judge has given the state until Oct. 12 to comply with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling.
It’s not altogether clear what elected officials intend to do. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said in July, “Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions.” In the next sentence, she added the word, “However.”
Also from the God Machine this week:
* In Sterling Heights, Michigan, the local planning commission voted 9-0 this week to reject a proposed mosque. I will look forward to Republican presidential candidates rushing to the community to take a firm stand in support of religious liberty.
* Just in time for the papal visit to the United States, division at the Vatican: “[As the pope] upends church convention, Francis also is grappling with a conservative backlash to the liberal momentum building inside the church. In more than a dozen interviews, including with seven senior church officials, insiders say the change has left the hierarchy more polarized over the direction of the church than at any point since the great papal reformers of the 1960s.”
* This might actually make an interesting case: “A police department in a rural Texas Bible Belt community has placed large ‘In God We Trust’ decals on its patrol vehicles in response to recent violence against law enforcement officers, but a watchdog group says the decals amount to an illegal government endorsement of religion.”
* And in West Virginia, a local parent sued the Jefferson County Board of Education, the State Superintendent, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Education, “alleging that the his religious freedom rights had somehow been violated because his child learns about evolution in public school.” The suit, decided by a federal court this week, did not turn out well for the plaintiff.