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This Week in God

Officials in Oklahoma are learning an unpleasant lesson: by allowing a Ten Commandments display at the state capitol, they've created an open forum for everyone

A New York-based Satanic group plans to submit designs this month for a monument it wants to erect on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol. The move comes after the state's Republican legislature authorized a privately funded Ten Commandments monument to be placed on capitol grounds last year, according to the Associated Press. A spokesman for the New York-based Satanic Temple credited Oklahoma Rep. Mike Ritze (R) -- who championed and helped to fund the Commandments monument -- for clearing the path for his organization. "He's helping a satanic agenda grow more than any of us possibly could," the spokesman, Lucian Greaves, said. "You don't walk around and see too many satanic temples around, but when you open the door to public spaces for us, that's when you're going to see us."

In this case, the $20,000 Satanic monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol would, like the Ten Commandments display, be privately financed. Taxpayers wouldn't pay a dime -- all the Satanic Temple would need is comparable public space provided by the state legislature for the Christian monument in 2009.
ACLU Oklahoma has already reminded state officials that they cannot discriminate on the basis of religious viewpoints.
Which brings us back to the underlying principle we last discussed in July: in an open forum, the government can't play favorites. If the government is going to devote space to promoting one religious monument, celebrating the tenets of one faith, it can't deny space to other religions that expect equal treatment. It's easy to imagine the Oklahoma state capitol reserving space for everyone: Baptists, Buddhists, and the Baha'i; as well as Sikhs, Scientologists, and Satanists.
There are, after all, no second-class Americans citizens when it comes to the First Amendment. If one group has the right to erect a monument, so does everyone else.
It seems likely that officials in Oklahoma will be less than enthusiastic about welcoming a permanent Satanic display to sit near the Ten Commandments display, but they probably should have thought this through before. They opened the door, and it's going to get crowded as others walk through it.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer argued this week that the First Amendment protects the free exercise of Christianity, but not other religions. That's pretty nutty, even for the religious right movement.
* This story out of Ohio will almost certainly not end well: "A portrait of Jesus and prayer could return to public schools if two state representatives persuade fellow lawmakers to pass the Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the tip).
* The appeal on this one should be interesting: "A federal judge struck down Utah's criminal ban on cohabitation between a married individual and another person not his or her spouse, a prong in the state's law against polygamy. The Friday ruling did not address legal polygamy -- actually being married to multiple people -- but only what U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups referred to as 'religious cohabitation.'"
* The legal dispute over the 29-foot cross atop Mount Soledad has been ongoing for literally most of my lifetime. It's not over: "A federal judge ruled Thursday that a cross on federal land in San Diego violated the First Amendment ban on a government endorsement of religion and ordered it removed within 90 days. "
* What a relief: "Texas lawmakers sent notices to schools on Monday informing them that new legislation allows students and teachers to dress in festive garb and say 'Merry Christmas' all they want without fear of punishment" (thanks to my colleague Robert Lyon for the tip).
* Fox News' Megyn Kelly raised eyebrows this week when she insisted that Santa Claus, a fictional character, must be considered white -- just like Jesus. Last night, the host said she was kidding and told her viewers she's the victim: "Fox News and yours truly are big targets for many people."