Earlier this month, the Oklahoma State Senate approved a ballot measure that would allow citizens to vote on whether or not to put a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds.
The previous monument, as you may know, was declared illegal by the state’s Supreme Court who said it violated the Oklahoma Constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 72 (the ballot measure in question) would repeal the part of the Constitution preventing public money from being used for religious purposes. But even that wouldn’t work since the U.S. Constitution explicitly forbids government endorsement of religion, which is all this would be.
Not that I expect the state legislature to understand that. This is Oklahoma. You’ll find less logic in the government than clean water in Flint.
Now, in an essay for the Stillwater News Press, National Committeeman for the Oklahoma Republican Party Steve Fair offers three reasons voters should support the ballot measure.
None of the three make any sense.
First, the vast majority of Oklahomans support the public display of the Decalogue, aka the Ten Commandments. When the court made the decision and cited the so-called Johnson amendment as justification for removing the monument, it created an uproar across the state. Even citizens who weren’t political were outraged when the monument was removed. At some point the people should have some input in a self-governing society and changing the state constitution to allow the public display would likely pass easily.
In short, we should do whatever the majority says, even when it violates the U.S. Constitution.
This is precisely what the Bill of Rights was designed to prevent. The majority has been wrong before. Many times. Just because there are a lot of Christians in the state doesn’t mean Christianity gets to become the state religion.
Second, in 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in a 5-4 decision that having a Ten Commandments monument on state property did not violate the Establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution. In a case very similar to the one in Oklahoma, brought against the state of Texas, the SCOTUS ruled though the Commandments are religious, the plurality on the court argued, “simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the establishment clause.”
He’s right… but he’s conveniently not telling the whole story. In the case of Van Orden v. Perry, the Court said a Ten Commandments monument in Texas was okay… but only if it was part of a larger display. In other words, when you looked at the context in which the monument sat, was it promoting Christianity? If not, said the Court, then it’s okay. This particular display, it was said, reflected moral principles throughout Texas’ history and the Ten Commandments were simply one example of that. (See? They weren’t promoting Christianity at all!)
What Republicans in Oklahoma are asking for, however, is a stand-alone Christian monument. It’s not at all analogous to the Texas case. In fact, the whole reason this story generated so much media interest over the past couple of years is because outside groups, including The Satanic Temple, wanted to erect displays of their own on the Capitol grounds, and state officials wouldn’t give them the green light. (They issued a moratorium on outside monuments because they were already getting sued.)
Steve Fair wrongly thinks the Supreme Court would approve of the Oklahoma monument.
He forgets that the Court issued another ruling about the Ten Commandments on the exact same day as Van Orden v. Perry. In that other case, the issue at hand was a monument that was very clearly there to promote religion. No context was going to change that, and the Court said that monument was illegal.
Yet that’s what they want to do in Oklahoma.
The Supreme Court has already ruled on monuments like that. They issued a resounding “NO.”
Finally, just to make clear how illegal this Oklahoma monument would be, look at Fair’s third point:
Third, perhaps some of Oklahoma’s leaders would actually read and study them if they were on display. It is always humorous to watch politicians scramble to support the public display of the Decalogue when many couldn’t come up with half of the 10 if asked. Most are not aware of the real purpose of the law (10 commandments). It is to show us how sinful we are before a holy God. The commandments are rules that no one can keep — with the exception of Jesus Christ, the son of God. When political leaders talk about them and say they keep them, they reveal their ignorance of the purpose of the law. They need to read Galatians 3:24. The Ten Commandments provide us a glimpse into the character of God. It reveals to us what He hates and what He loves.
He gave the game away: This is all about promoting Christianity. Forget context. Forget the supposed moral foundations of our society. Forget the legal history of our nation. It’s about pushing Jesus on the masses.
Fair says he wants politicians to know the Commandments… but he doesn’t explain why it’s vital for government officials of all people to know why they shouldn’t have other gods before them, or worship graven images, or take God’s name in vain, or covet what other people have. And why do they need to keep the Sabbath Day holy?
Fair’s own arguments for why voters should approve the ballot measure give away why the monument won’t stay up for very long. There’s bound to be a lawsuit, and the monument will come down again.
He’s a typical Republican: Loves the Constitution, but happy to dismantle it if it means promoting Jesus.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)