Man Takes Out a Ten Commandments Monument — Again

June 29, 2017
By David Lee

LITTLE ROCK (CN) – A man who destroyed a controversial Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma Capitol with his car three years ago did the same thing Wednesday to a similar monument at the Arkansas Capitol.

Michael Tate Reed, 32, of Van Buren, was arrested before dawn after smashing his car into a newly placed Ten Commandments monument that had been installed at the Arkansas Capitol the day before. The privately funded stone monument was knocked down and smashed into several pieces.

Reed is charged with defacing objects of public interest, criminal trespass and first-degree criminal mischief. He was to be arraigned Thursday morning, according to Pulaski County officials.

Authorities believe Reed streamed a live video of the collision on his Facebook page. A male voice can be heard exclaiming, “My goodness, freedom!” before the car accelerates and smashes into the monument.

Oklahoma County sheriff’s spokesman Mark Opgrande told The Associated Press that Reed was arrested in October 2014 for doing the same thing at the Oklahoma Capitol.

Reed reportedly said at the time that he was directed by Satan to urinate on and destroy the monument. Authorities arrested Reed for allegedly threatening to kill President Barack Obama at the Oklahoma City federal building.

Despite opposition to the Oklahoma monument, by the ACLU and others, monument opponents roundly denounced the “desecration” of the monument by “vandals.” ACLU of Arkansas Rita Sklar denounced the destruction of the Arkansas monument on Wednesday.

“We strongly condemn any illegal act of destruction or vandalism,” Sklar said in a statement. “The ACLU remains committed to seeing this unconstitutional monument struck down by the courts and safely removed through legal means.”

Reed apologized for destroying the Oklahoma monument in 2015, telling the Tulsa World newspaper that he suffered from mental health issues and “wished I could take it all back.”

Oklahoma County officials declined to pursue charges against Reed, opting to place him in a mental health facility for several months instead. His family reportedly had him transferred to a mental health facility in Arkansas.

From Courthouse News.

Ten Commandments Fight Kept Alive in Okla.

March 8, 2016
By David Lee
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – The Oklahoma Senate on Monday approved a ballot question to let voters choose whether to delete a section of the state constitution that the state supreme court used to order the removal of a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol.
Senate Joint Resolution 72, by state Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, passed by a vote of 39-5. If approved by the state House, the question will appear on the general election ballot in November.
The privately funded 6-foot-tall stone monument was removed from Capitol grounds last year after the high court ruled in June that it violated Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, that “no public money or property” should be applied or donated for the use of any church, denomination, religious leader or sectarian institution.
Senate Joint Resolution 72 states: “This measure repeals Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution. This section prohibits the use of public money or property for sectarian or religious purposes.”
Attorney General Scott Pruitt urged repeal after the court’s June 2015 ruling.
Bruce Prescott sued the state in 2013, a year after the monument was installed and four years after it was approved by the Legislature.
Controversy over the monument boiled over when a man smashed his car into it in October 2014, destroying it and drawing condemnation from Prescott and his supporters.
The monument was quickly replaced.
Standridge told the Tulsa World that his bill “will give the final say to the citizens” of Oklahoma.
But state Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said the measure sets “a dangerous precedent.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said that if voters approve the ballot measure, it will result in more First Amendment lawsuits in Federal Court that the state “will almost certainly lose, and considerable expense, all the while continuing to play politics with the deeply held beliefs of Oklahomans instead of directing their attention to the fiscal crisis our state is facing.”

From Courthouse News.

Last Round in 10 Commandments Fight?

September 14, 2015
By David Lee
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – A state judge on Friday ordered Oklahoma to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds within 30 days, after the state’s fruitless appeals to the state supreme court.
Oklahoma County Judge Thomas Prince ordered the state to take down the 6-foot-tall stone monument by Oct. 12.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on June 30 that the privately funded monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution prohibition of using public money or property for any church, denomination, religious leader or sectarian institution.
Bruce Prescott sued the state in 2013, a year after the privately funded monument was installed. State lawmakers authorized it in 2009.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to apply a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a Ten Commandments monument in Texas did not violate the federal Establishment Clause.
“The issue in the case at hand is whether the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution, not whether it violates the Establishment Clause,” the per curiam opinion stated. “Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence. As concerns the ‘historic purpose’ justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court denied Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s request for a rehearing on July 27.
Pruitt claimed the state supreme court ignored the “profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments” and “contradicted previous decisions.”
Pruitt returned to the trial court on Sept. 4, asking Prince to amend the state’s original answer. Pruitt asked Judge Prince to consider a new religious liberty defense: that the state supreme court ruling ” creates hostility toward religion that violates the U.S. Constitution.”
After the Friday hearing Pruitt attacked the state supreme court’s “stunningly broad interpretation” of the Oklahoma law that he claimed “violates the balance struck by the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees” of religious freedom.
“The Legislature should give voters the opportunity to rectify this problem by allowing Oklahomans to vote on removing Article II, Section 5 from the Oklahoma Constitution,” Pruitt said in a statement. “I fully support removal of this provision of the Oklahoma Constitution in order to reconcile the conflict – created by the state Supreme Court’s ruling – between the Oklahoma Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.”

From Courthouse News.

Arkansas Capitol Targeted for Statue of Satan

September 8, 2015
By David Lee
LITTLE ROCK  (CN) – A satanist group that wanted to erect a 7-foot statue of a goat-headed Satan at the Oklahoma Capitol in response to a Ten Commandments monument now wants to put it up in Arkansas.
The New York-based Satanic Temple said Tuesday that it has applied to the Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission for the monument. It made asimilar request to the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission in January 2014 and publicized statue designs of Satan as Baphomet – a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a beard – while sitting on a pentagram throne with two smiling children standing beside him.
The temple argued that Oklahoma lawmakers’ approval of a Ten Commandments monument privately funded by former state lawmaker and ordained Baptist minister Mike Ritze opened the door for its statue.
That application was rendered moot when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on June 30 that the Ten Commandments monument violated the state’s constitution and must be removed. The monument has yet to be taken down as Oklahoma officials have made several last-ditch efforts to save it.
The temple says it filed its application in Arkansas after the state Senate approved a similar bill that would allow for a privately funded Ten Commandments monument to be placed at the Arkansas Capitol. It argues that if Arkansas opens public grounds to private donations, then it “cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination” and should reasonably allow for other “similar nature” donations.
“We have reviewed SB 939, which authorized the placement of a Ten Commandments monument at the Arkansas State Capitol, and the Baphomet statue we would like to contribute shall fulfill the same intended purposes,” temple co-founder Malcolm Jarry wrote to the commission.
The temple says the monument will be “a memorial to the various historical witch hunts, and homage to the persecuted free-thinkers and ‘heretics’ who helped inform American secular jurisprudence.”
“To that end, an inscription on the monument shall read, ‘Be it known to all that this statue commemorates the history of law in the United States of America. From the deplorable satanic witch hunts, the cherished doctrines of due process, presumption of innocence and the protection of minorities from the tyranny of mob rule became part of the established foundation of American jurisprudence,'” the temple said in a statement.
The Baphomet monument symbolizes the influence on American law in a “profoundly clearer” fashion because “not one of the Ten Commandments appears in the US Constitution either in text or spirit,” the temple said.
The temple said it “is prepared to pursue legal options” if the application is turned down or ignored.
“The Arkansas Legislature unwittingly opened the door for our monument to be erected at Little Rock, while they clearly believed they could preference the Ten Commandments,” temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves said Tuesday. “In fact, the law doesn’t work that way. The state either allows for an open forum available to private donors, or it does not.
“The Legislature doesn’t need to approve our monument, as the approval of the Ten Commandments already established the parameters by which monuments are allowed on Capitol grounds. We clearly meet all their criteria with Baphomet.”

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Last-Ditch Rescue of Ten Commandments Monument

July 28, 2015
By David Lee
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday rejected the state’s last-ditch effort to keep a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol.
The state supreme court rejected the state’s request for a rehearing by 7-2 vote.
The court ruled on June 3 that the 6-foot-tall stone monument violates Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, that “no public money or property” should be applied or donated for the use of any church, denomination, religious leader or sectarian institution.
Bruce Prescott sued the state in 2013, a year after the privately funded monument was installed, after state lawmakers authorized it in 2009.
In ordering the monument removed, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to apply recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent in which a Ten Commandments monument in neighboring Texas was found not to violate the federal Establishment Clause.
“The issue in the case at hand is whether the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution, not whether it violates the Establishment Clause,” the per curiam opinion states. “Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence. As concerns the ‘historic purpose’ justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”
In requesting a rehearing on July 14, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the court’s ruling ignored the “profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments” and “contradicted previous decisions.”
Pruitt said it “appears entirely inconsistent” for the high court to rule that Article 2, Section 5 bans the use of public property “for any religious purpose” in this case, yet in a previous case allowed a large, lighted cross to be placed on public property “for an admittedly religious” purpose.
“Appellants argue that this Court’s opinion is consistent with the Court’s prior opinion in Meyer v. Oklahoma City,” Pruitt wrote. “But there is no rational reading ofMeyer that supports a 50-foot-tall, lighted cross as not serving ‘any religious purpose.’ In fact, this Court acknowledged the sectarian purposes of the persons who erected the cross.”
In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice John Reif wrote Monday that he would have granted a rehearing for the limited purpose of addressing Meyer, because it “provides helpful guidance in deciding whether a particular use of public property is for the benefit” of a religion.
Reif said the current case fails Meyer’s two-part test, of the monument being “in a distinctly secular environment in the midst of persons in pursuit of distinctly secular entertainment” and displaying “any ideas that are alleged to pertain to any of the sectarian institutions or systems named in Article 2.”
In dissent, Justice Doug Combs wrote that he would grant a rehearing because the court’s strict reading of Article 2 “ignores the context-based analysis” used in Meyer and fails to overrule that opinion.
“The appellee’s need for clarification is apparent,” Combs wrote. “I do not believe the intent or effect behind this Ten Commandments Monument was for the adoption of sectarian principles. My belief is based not only on our context-based analysis in Meyerbut also on the standard the district court and the parties agreed was proper to use in this analysis; one based on federal jurisprudence in Establishment Clause cases.”
Gov. Mary Fallin said on July 7 that the monument would not be removed until legal appeals and “potential legislative and constitutional changes are considered.”
“The monument was built and maintained with private dollars,” Fallin said at the time. “It is virtually identical to a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol which the United States Supreme Court ruled to be permissible. It is a privately funded tribute to historical events, not a taxpayer funded endorsement of any religion, as some have alleged.”
Fallin said she was “deeply disturbed” by the court’s ruling. She could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma AG Fights Ten Commandments Ruling

July 15, 2015
By David Lee
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Oklahoma’s attorney general asked the state supreme court to reconsider its ruling that a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol violates the state’s constitution.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on June 30 that the 6-foot-tall stone monument violates Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution: that “no public money or property” should be applied or donated for the use of any church, denomination, religious leader or sectarian institution.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Tuesday that the court ignored the “profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments” and “contradicted previous decisions.”
Representing the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, Pruitt filed a reply to the plaintiffs’ response brief on his request for a rehearing and oral arguments on possible implications of the ruling on other state programs.
Pruitt said it “appears entirely inconsistent” for the high court to rule that Article 2, Section 5, bans the use of public property “for any religious purpose” in this case, yet in a previous case allowed a large, lighted cross to be placed on public property “for an admittedly religious” purpose.
“Appellants argue that this Court’s opinion is consistent with the Court’s prior opinion in Meyer v. Oklahoma City,” Pruitt’s 7-page filing states. “But there is no rational reading of Meyer that supports a 50-foot-tall, lighted cross as not serving ‘any religious purpose.’ In fact, this Court acknowledged the sectarian purposes of the persons who erected the cross.”
Pruitt accused the court of crafting a “per se ban” on Ten Commandment displays on all state property.
“Appellee knows of no other place in the United States having such a rule,” he wrote. “Appellee would urge this Court to reconsider analogous state and federal provisions and cases before holding that such a per se ban exists. Indeed, this exact version of the Ten Commandments has been ruled constitutional by the United States Supreme Court; the United States Courts of Appeal for the Ninth, Eighth, and Fifth Circuits; and the Colorado Supreme Court.”
Pruitt said the court’s “ignor[ing] of its own precedent” will put in jeopardy Medicaid dollars spent at religiously affiliated hospitals and state scholarships awarded for religiously affiliated colleges.
“The court previously upheld as constitutional a 50-foot tall lighted cross on public property and blessed the construction of a chapel at a state-owned orphanage,” Pruitt said in a statement Tuesday. “Now the court is bucking its own precedent and misconstruing a section of the state constitution that permitted those displays to order the removal of the privately funded Ten Commandments display. This ruling has implications far beyond the placement of the monument.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma sued the state on behalf of three citizens who objected to the monument at the Capitol. Its legal director, Brady Henderson, called Pruitt’s arguments “alarmist” and a “red herring.” The ACLU says the state constitution limits the government’s power to endorse specific religious ideas, while protecting people’s right to free speech.
“The monument can be given back to its donor and relocated to private property,” the ACLU said in a statement Monday. “In fact, if the monument is placed on private property and that placement is ever challenged, the ACLU stands ready to defend the constitutional rights of the owners of the private monument.”
Pruitt’s filing came a week after Gov. Mary Fallin said the monument will not be removed until legal appeals and “potential legislative and constitutional changes are considered,” despite the supreme court’s ruling.

From Courthouse News.

Okla. Governor Defies State Supreme Court

July 8, 2015
By David Lee
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Defying the state Supreme Court, Oklahoma’s governor refuses to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state Capitol, calling the religious symbol a “tribute to historical events.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on June 30 that the 6-foot tall stone monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution, which states that “no public money or property” should be spent or donated for the use of any church, denomination, religious leader or sectarian institution.
Bruce Prescott sued the state in 2013 over the monument, which was privately funded by state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, and installed in 2012, with authorization from state lawmakers.
After the state supreme court’s 7-2 ruling, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said: “Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong.”
Pruitt said the relevant section of the Oklahoma Constitution, Article 2, Section 5, should be repealed if it “is going to be construed in such a manner,” and that his supreme court “completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law.”
Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday said the monument will not be removed until legal appeals and “potential legislative and constitutional changes are considered.”
“The monument was built and maintained with private dollars,” Fallin said in a statement. “It is virtually identical to a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol which the United States Supreme Court ruled to be permissible. It is a privately funded tribute to historical events, not a taxpayer funded endorsement of any religion, as some have alleged.”
Fallin said she was “deeply disturbed” by the court’s ruling, as were many state lawmakers and members of the public.
“Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions,” she said. “However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government. At this time, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, with my support, has filed a petition requesting a rehearing of the Ten Commandments case. Additionally, our Legislature has signaled its support for pursuing changes to our state Constitution that will make it clear the Ten Commandments monument is legally permissible. If legislative efforts are successful, the people of Oklahoma will get to vote on the issue.”
Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz told Tulsa World the governor was not ignoring the ruling, but giving the other branches of government time to weigh in on the issue.
ACLU of Oklahoma executive director Ryan Kiesel didn’t buy it, saying Fallin is charged with enforcing the law.
“The Supreme Court did not give any leeway in their opinion,” Kiesel told the Tulsa World. “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. The court said, ‘Remove the monument.'”
Kiesel added: “Frankly, I would be astonished if we get to a point where the governor outright defies an order of our state’s highest court,” he said. “That said, if she does, there is a word for it. It is called contempt.”
Kiesel dismissed calls by some state lawmakers to impeach the seven justices who voted in the majority.
“Just because you don’t agree with the decision of a court, it doesn’t mean the remedy should be impeachment,” Kiesel said. “I don’t think impeachment is in order.”
Fallin, 60, and Pruitt, 47, were both elected in 2010. They are Republicans.

From Courthouse News.