County judge dismisses lawsuit challenging Ten Commandments monument at Oklahoma Capitol

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol does not violate the state constitution and can stay there, an Oklahoma County judge said Friday in a ruling that attorneys who filed the lawsuit vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

District Judge Thomas Prince granted a motion filed on behalf of the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission to block the lawsuit from going to trial.

The 6-foot-tall granite monument was authorized by the Legislature in 2009 and was erected in 2012 after Republican state Rep. Mike Ritze and his family paid nearly $10,000 for it. The monument's placement has led others to seek their own on the Capitol grounds, including a satanic group that earlier this year unveiled designs for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of the Rev. Bruce Prescott of Norman, a Baptist minister, and others who allege the monument's location violated the state constitution's ban against using public property to support "any sect, church, denomination or system of religion."

Prince disagreed, ruling that the monument serves a secular — not religious — purpose and occupies a small plot on the north side of the state Capitol that's part of a 100-acre complex which has 51 other monuments.

The ruling was praised by Attorney General Scott Pruitt and others who support the monument.

"The Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is constitutional because of its historical value," Pruitt said in a statement. He also said the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2005 ruled that a nearly identical monument at the Texas state Capitol was constitutional.

Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said he'll appeal Friday's decision to the state Supreme Court. He said the plaintiffs don't want the monument removed because it's offensive, but because they feel the Ten Commandments are being used for political purposes.

The ACLU has 30 days to appeal to the state's highest court.

"Everyone involved knew today wasn't going to be the last word in this case," said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma's executive director.

While this lawsuit is pending, the preservation commission is not accepting applications for other monuments, though requests have been made from a Hindu leader in Nevada, the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a group seeking to erect a monument to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

A second lawsuit challenging the Ten Commandments monument was filed in federal court in January by a New Jersey-based nonprofit group, Americans Atheists Inc., and two of its members. The case is scheduled for trial on March 10.

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