WASHINGTON, December 9, 2013—When Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled Legislature authorized a privately funded monument of the Ten Commandments to be placed on state capitol grounds in 2009, it may have unwittingly have been paving the way for a monument to the devil.
Arguing that the 2012 installation of the monument on capital grounds means that other groups should have equal access to erect their own monument, the Satanic Temple of New York recently notified the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission that it intends to do just that.
This month the temple plans to submit plans for a $20,000 monument, stating that the design would be in “good taste,” possibly an interactive display for children or a marker with a pentagram, reported the Associated Press (AP).
Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves credited state Representative Mike Ritze, the Oklahoma lawmaker who led the campaign to place the Ten Commandments monument on capitol grounds, with opening a public space for his religion.
“He’s helping a satanic agenda grow more than any of us possibly could,” Greaves told the AP. “You don’t walk around and see too many satanic temples around, but when you open the door to public spaces for us, that’s when you’re going to see us.”
Representative Ritze declined to comment, but other Oklahoma lawmakers spoke out.
“These Satanists are a different group,” said State Representative Bobby Cleveland to AP. “You put them under the nut category.”
When it comes to whether Satanists will ultimately be able to erect their monument, however, federal courts may not agree with Rep. Cleveland.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a federal law designed to protect the religious freedom of prisoners also protected the religious freedom of Satanists, Wiccans, and members of white supremacist religions.
In Cutter v. Wilkinson, Ohio prisons argued that allowing Satanists to practice their religion would draw more prisoners to that faith and ultimately undermine prison security. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the law protected Satanists and members of the other religions, but the ruling applied to the federal law in question only. However, for the purposes of the case, the Supreme Court stipulated that Satanism was a bona fide religion and therefore protected by federal law.
In the same year, the Court decided two other cases regarding religious monuments on state grounds, with different outcomes. In McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Supreme Court decided, in a five to four split, that copies of the Ten Commandments posted on the walls of two courthouses in Kentucky were unconstitutional.
In the second case, Van Orden v. Perry, the Court decided that a monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol did not offend the constitutional separation of church and state. The Court argued that the particular monument in question was acceptable because it had been on Texas capitol grounds for decades without compliant and was one of 17 monuments and 21 historical markers that decorated the 22-acre capitol park.
More recently, in 2010, a lower court decision that ordered a Ten Commandments monument to be removed from the grounds of an Oklahoma courthouse was allowed to stand by the Supreme Court.
In this case, the Ten Commandments monument stands alone on capitol grounds. The ACLU is already challenging the monument in a lawsuit, arguing the “constitution forbids using state property to endorse particular religions or denominations.”
The Temple of Satan is raising the funds for the proposed monument on an Indiegogo page.
“By accepting our offer,” states the fundraising webpage, “the good people of Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution … Allowing us to donate a monument would show that the Oklahoma City Council does not discriminate, and both the religious and non-religious should be happy with such an outcome.”
Critics of the Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma agree with Greaves.
“If the Ten Commandments, with its overtly Christian message, is allowed to stay at the Capitol, the Satanic Temple’s proposed monument cannot be rejected because of its different religious viewpoint,” said Brady Henderson, legal director at the Oklahoma chapter of the ACLU, to AP.
Henderson stated, however, that a better solution would be not allowing religious expression on state grounds at all.
“We would prefer to see Oklahoma’s government officials work to faithfully serve our communities and improve the lives of Oklahomans instead of erecting granite monuments to show us all how righteous they are,” said Henderson.
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