This week the Ten Commandments were removed under cover of darkness–not to Philistia, but to a conservative think tank in Oklahoma.
The state paid $4,700 (call it a temple tax) to a private contractor for the removal of the monument from the Capitol grounds. (A tad ironically, the monument in question is a replacement; like Moses’ original tablets, the original monument was haphazardly destroyed.)
The removal follows an Oklahoma Supreme Court June decision “that the display violates a state constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support ‘any sect, church, denomination or system of religion,'” AP reports.
This case concerning the Decalogue on public property has a peculiar twist, in that the plaintiff in Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission was a Baptist minister. In July 2015, Bruce Prescott wrote in The Oklahoma Observer:
I, an ordained minister, opposed placing this monument on public property and filed suit with the ACLU because I believe it is bad for religion. The Ten Commandments is a covenant between God and people of faith. The text mentions God six times and refers to “the Lord” seven times. It is obviously religious in nature.
Erecting the monument under sham secular pretenses serves only to trivialize the holiness of sincere religious covenants and undermines religion by negating the significance of the most sacred symbols of religious language.
Prescott characterized the Legislature’s 2009 push to erect the granite monument as a display of “pretentious piety and politics,” a tangible exchange of rings, as it were, symbolizing the “marriage of right-wing religion and local government.”
Yet Prescott himself hardly seems free of pretenses. Maybe he genuinely believes that suing Oklahoma over its placement of the Ten Commandments was the best defense against trivializing religion. But for most Christian pastors–including those who would prefer to keep the Commandments (pardon the pun) off public property–remove the Decalogue doesn’t top their list of ways to preserve the “holiness of sincere religious covenants.”
More dubious, and even alarming, is the pastor’s alacrity to yoke himself to the ACLU. The organization is a frequent opponent of religious freedom in the United States and consistently lines up against mainstream Christians on issues many deem integral to biblical compliance. It opposes RFRAs, “works every day” to further the practice of abortion, and “brings more LGBT cases and advocacy initiatives than any other national organization.”
Conservative leaders, meanwhile, reportedly have promised to seek a counter-removal–that is, of the Oklahoma Constitution’s Article 2, Section 5, which 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.
One wonders, though, whether removing the language will satisfy these leaders’ desire to see the Ten Commandments, a key part of the Western heritage, memorialized on Capitol grounds. The reinstatement of the Ten Commandments monument will surely be followed by another wave of petitions from other religious groups, sincere and satirical:
Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests. (AP)
It may take additional legislation, rather than merely striking the state’s constitutional language, to define the scope of religious symbols permitted for display at the Capitol yet without discriminating on the basis of religion. The point of a monument, after all, is to invigorate and inspire cultural memory of ideas that have contributed significantly more than others to society’s character, laws, and culture. If the scope is not narrowed, any Ten Commandments monument reinstalled will soon after become just one of dozens of symbols erected by petitioners, diluting its distinction and rendering its placement at the Capitol pointless.
In other words, it would be like having no monument there at all.
Image via TheCityWire.com