Monday, July 27, 2015

Woe Unto Thee, O Oklahoma; Thee Have Sinned A Great Sin

"And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount." Exodus 32: 19

 The Supreme Court of Oklahoma is not God, nor is it Moses. But it has cast down an order removing a set of tablets bearing the Ten Commandments from the state capitol grounds.

[The Court's opinions can be accessed here.]

This Monday, the Supremes refused the request of Attorney General Scott Pruitt to rehear the case. The state had argued that the display, funded by private funds, had an historical and secular purpose. The court had previously heard arguments regarding the display in May, and subsequently determined that it violated the state constitution's prohibition on the use of state property or assets to promote any religion.

The plaintiffs of the ACLU were quoted thus in the Oklahoman:

"Obviously we're pleased with the decision," said Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma. "The whole case is controversial, but something that is undeniable is that the court is getting this right. The court is following the law."
The state had not responded at the time of this writing.

So, what comes next? First, a state constitutional amendment will be filed altering Art. 2,
§5, which currently reads:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
How this will take shape remains to be seen. But, it is reasonable to expect that the Ten Commandments monument will become incidental to the argument -- instead, a logic will likely be applied that there is a larger public policy problem here. Conceivably, this provision of the constitution might be interpreted to impede the ability of faith-based institutions and not for profits to participate in public policy delivery of a secular purpose that otherwise brings them in contact with public agencies or public monies. 

What will be interesting is how this will have suddenly become a pressing public policy problem for Oklahoma, a problem only noticed after the felling through the forces of law that which was previously felled by the force of a disoriented and disturbed individual in a car. That does not mean that the motivation is wrong, or that the problem is not real. But it is intriguing that an allegedly (by the state) secular monument with historical purpose will subsequently get a rise out of people due to religion.  
The next thing that will happen is that the amendment will pass, presumably about 15 months from now.   It will easily command a supermajority of the vote.

Then, someone up in New York will again attempt to send Oklahoma this piece of juvenile humor (see also at right), which was unveiled a few hours ago in Detroit.  

Then the ACLU will be back in court. 

And the attorney general will get another round of litigation over the issue, because nothing is settled in politics. 

After all, in Oklahoma, when it comes to religion, monuments, and politics, the devil is in the details.