An Oklahoma state lawmaker oversaw the installation of a 2,000-lb. granite block depicting the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol Friday, amid fears that the monument will spark a costly legal battle over its constitutionality.
But before state Rep. Mike Ritze (R), who sponsored the initial bill and whose family donated $10,000 to fund the project, worries about fielding a suit from the state’s American Civil Liberties Union, he first needs to deal with spelling errors, The Oklahoman reports.
The rose-stone block reads “Sabbeth” instead of “Sabbath.”
And at its base, the tenth commandment reads, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidseruent.” It should read "maidservant."
“It's a simple fix,” Ritze told The Oklahoman. “Scrivener's errors or misspellings are not uncommon with monument manufacturing.”
Ritze pushed for the installation of the Ten Commandments on the lawn of the state capitol because they represent a strong moral and religious symbol for Oklahomans, he explained.
“The Ten Commandments found in the Bible, Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, are an important component of the moral foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the State of Oklahoma,” the original bill to establish the monument stated, according to Think Progress.
But Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the ACLU’s state chapter, sees the monument as an exclusionary marker that could violate the constitutional guarantee of a separation between church and state.
“[The state capitol building] ought to be a welcoming environment for all faiths and those of no faith,” Kiesel told The Tulsa World. “When legislatures set up a monument that seems to put one faith above others, it creates an environment where some visitors will feel like second-class citizens. ... I think under the very best of circumstances, it is of questionable constitutionality.”
He said that the ACLU had not yet decided whether to file a lawsuit challenging the monument on constitutional grounds. If Oklahoma does in fact face a legal challenge, either from the ACLU or another group, Ritze says the Liberty Legal Foundation -- which has led legal challenges to President Barack Obama's eligibility to run for president on the grounds that he was allegedly born in Kenya -- has agreed to take on the defense at no cost to the state.
The placement of monuments glorifying a particular religion on state government property has long been a contested issue. Notably, in 2003, a U.S. district judge ordered the removal of a 2.6-ton, granite monument engraved with the Ten Commandments from the Alabama state judiciary building in Montgomery, Ala., which eventually led to the dismissal of the state’s chief justice, Roy Moore, after he refused to comply with the order.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky’s display of the Ten Commandments violated the Equal Protection clause and had to be removed. But the court also found that a similar monument in Texas could remain, as the memorial had a historical and secular value in additional to a religious character.
But as Kiesel sees it, the Supreme Court's argument in the Texas case reduces the Ten Commandments to a historical footnote.
"Frankly, I think the people of Oklahoma that include the Ten Commandments in their worship should be offended these individuals seek to discount the Ten Commandments to some secular, historical symbol," Kiesel said.