Under Cover of Night, the Ten Commandments Are Removed from Oklahoma Capitol

As the city slept, workers removed the Ten Commandments monument from its place in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol.  Just in case there were violent Christians out there who might defend their sacred laws with guns or knives, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol provided extra security guards and erected barriers to keep people from coming close during the removal. The two-ton monument was uninstalled without incident and carried a few blocks away to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where it will be stored.

Rembrandt, "Moses With the Ten Commandments" [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rembrandt, “Moses With the Ten Commandments” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In America, the Ten Commandments have increasingly fallen into disdain. The laws of God which had been, in bygone eras, the guideposts for civil law and common behavior, have been labeled “religious speech” and may no longer be displayed in a public forum.

Since the Republican-led Oklahoma Legislature approved the privately-funded monument in 2009 (and since its installation in 2012), atheists and other secularist groups have complained about its presence at the State Capitol. Finally, the move to private property was mandated by an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling last June which said that the monument’s display violated a constitutional provision which prohibited the use of public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”

I have two thoughts today, looking at how far we’ve come along the road to bleaching religion from public life:

1. Why did a Baptist pastor initiate this latest assault on religion?

The lawsuit which got the Commandments booted from the state house was filed by Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman, Oklahoma. Prescott complained that it violated the state constitution. CBS News quoted Prescott:

“Frankly, I’m glad we finally got the governor and attorney general to agree to let the monument be moved to private property, which is where I believe it’s most appropriate,” Prescott said Monday. “I’m not opposed to the Ten Commandments. The first sermon I ever preached was on the Ten Commandments. I’m just opposed to it being on public property.”

I’m puzzled, frankly, about what this Protestant pastor had to gain by doing the secularists’ work, arguing for the abandonment of the Commandments in public life.  The Ten Commandments are printed in a sacred text, to be sure, and are safeguarded by both the Jewish and the Christian faiths. But their wisdom is prefaced in natural law, and in ancient texts from the Code of Ur-Nammu to the Code of Hammurabi, from Egypt’s Negative Confessions to the Twelve Tables of Roman Law. The prohibitions against lying, stealing, killing and sexual improprieties, the honor due to one’s elders and to the legitimate government, are universal laws which are written on the human heart. As 2 Corinthinians 3:3 reminds us, we are “a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

J. Budziszewski, in his important and engaging book What We Can’t Not Know, explained the rational foundation of what we all really know to be right and wrong, and showed how that foundation has been kicked out from under western society, as moral relativism has taken hold. He continued, though, defending the reasonableness of traditional morality and showing that despite the denials of nihilism, sin exists–and we all know when we are wrong.

So what does Pastor Prescott have to gain by shoving the Ten Commandments down the street to a private nonprofit? Personal notoriety, perhaps. But obliteration of the truth of natural law? Not at all.

2. At least Oklahoma has been spared the indignity of having to host the Satanic statue of Baphomet!

Baphomet (Image: Facebook / Satanic Temple)
Baphomet (Image: Facebook / Satanic Temple)

And my hometown, Detroit, may be stuck with it. Last July, in a bold show of pagan idolatry, the statue of Baphomet was unveiled in the Motor City; and to my knowledge, it remains here–a testament to nihilism.

The Satanic Temple, that ironic church of no belief in which militant atheists and other unbelievers uphold the possibility of being good without God, tried several years ago to install a statue of their Satanic idol, Baphomet, beside the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma Capitol.  When the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that all religious symbols would be banned from official spaces, they abandoned their plan. I wrote about it (and about Detroit’s enthusiastic welcome for the horrible statue) last July in the National Catholic Register:

Satanic Temple co-founder and spokesman Doug Mesner, who calls himself “Lucien Greaves,” agreed with the court’s decision and explained to the Washington Post, “The entire point of our effort was to offer a monument that would complement and contrast the 10 Commandments, reaffirming that we live in a nation that respects plurality, a nation that refuses to allow a single viewpoint to co-opt the power and authority of government institutions. … Given the Court’s ruling, TST no longer has any interest in pursuing placement of the Baphomet monument on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds.”

So there’s this positive outcome: The removal of the stone tablet bearing the Ten Commandments insures that Oklahoma will not be pressured to welcome this Satanic idol. Same with other stupid monuments which had been proposed, including an animal rights statue and an icon from the satirical atheist Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

*     *     *     *     *

Former state Representative Mike Reynolds and other conservative legislators have not given up. They plan to introduce a resolution to change the state’s constitution. When the legislature convenes in February. they plan to send to a public vote an amendment that would remove the article of the constitution that prevents the use of public money or property for religious purposes.

Their efforts are likely to be unsuccessful; but does that matter? As St. Paul reminds us in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, quoted above, we have the law of God engraved, not on tablets of stone, but in our hearts.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • islandbrewer

    In America, the Ten Commandments have increasingly fallen into disdain.

    Absolute nonsense. Christians across the country are putting the 10 Commandments on courthouse lawns, city council chambers, in public school rooms, nearly everywhere my atheist taxpayer money pays for. If I have to pay for it, could I at least not have someone else’s religious symbols on it, please?

    Why did a Baptist pastor initiate this latest assault on religion?

    Probably because he, unlike the majority of the theologically inclined, understand that this is a secular nation meant for everyone, not just christians or “judeo-christians” but atheists, satanists, hindus, muslims, bahai, animists, and everyone else in the US. He also understands the correct interpretation of the Federal and State Constitutions.

    That’s why.

    Look. Put a giant 10 commandment monument on your lawn, in front of your church, on every damned piece of privately owned property (that you control of course) – no one will even say boo. Put one of those on taxpayers’ property, be prepared for a big fight that you’ll lose.

    So there’s this positive outcome: The removal of the stone tablet bearing the Ten Commandments insures that Oklahoma will not be pressured to welcome this Satanic idol. Same with other stupid monuments which had been proposed, including an animal rights statue and an icon from the satirical atheist Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Which is what should have happened all along! And, by the way, many people thought the Ten Commandments monument was just as “stupid” as a Flying Spaghetti Monster monument. So, it’s win-win! What are you complaining about?

    It took a satanic statue of Baphomet to make the OK legislature realize what the principle behind “the state shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion” means.

    Unfortunately, you still don’t seem to get it.

    • samton909

      God atheists are annoying. I think they object to the idea of God just because they want to annoy people, no other reason.

      • islandbrewer

        Wow, you certainly fail to understand the point. I don’t object to a God or gods or fairies, but when the state allows one specific privileged religious belief to do things, and gives that privilege to no one else, there’s a problem.

        Tell you what. I’ll let you use my tax dollars to pay for the monument if I can use your tax dollars to pay for abortions for anyone who wants them on demand.

        That’s fair, right?

  • ahermit

    The removal of the stone tablet bearing the Ten Commandments insures
    that Oklahoma will not be pressured to welcome this Satanic idol. Same
    with other stupid monuments which had been proposed, including an animal
    rights statue and an icon from the satirical atheist Church of the
    Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Yes! Exactly! There is no more of a need for the State to sponsor those monuments than to sponsor one which declares that we should have no gods other than the Judeo-Christian one. The secular state has no business telling it’s citizens which gods to believe in or which religions to follow.

    • Howard

      “The secular state has no business telling it’s citizens which gods to believe in or which religions to follow.” Because, of course, if it does tell its citizens which religion to follow, it would not be “secular” in the sense in which the word is used today. Your statement is thus parallel to the assertion, “The Jewish state has no business telling its citizens to follow any religion but Judaism.” Remove the adjective, and you no longer have your tautology.

      But here’s a question: does the state have a role in telling its citizens what science to believe? The state actually does this, of course, when it has warnings printed on packages of cigarettes, launches public information campaigns stating that there is no relationship between vaccination and autism, or encourages (or requires) a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions due to fears over global warming.

      Surely there must be a separation of science and state! The state should not dictate the findings of science, nor should scientists run the government as an experiment. But what we want is for the government and science to be distinct, not to eliminate contact between the two entities. Regarding the impact on the state, we do not want the government to be ignorant of the relevant science — because, although we know that science is not magically infallible, we trust it to be a faithful guide to the truth.

      So here’s my final question: do you think it is a good idea to have the state ignore any truth as a firm matter of principle? If the truth is unclear or in dispute, that’s one thing; but are we ever better governed if truth and falsehood, no matter how well known as such, are to be given the same level of respect?

      • ahermit

        The state should make policy based on the best available information; ie the most reliable, empirically verifiable information and in the best interests of the public.

        Of course there’s a lot of room for debate right there, that’s why a representative democracy is the best way to run a secular state.

        And the question here isn’t whether the state can consider religious beliefs, it’s whether the state should be giving preference to one religious belief to the exclusion of all others, which is what we see when these specifically Christian monuments are given such prominence.

        • Howard

          “The state should make policy based on the best available information; ie the most reliable, empirically verifiable information and in the best interests of the public.” Do you have empirical evidence for that assertion?

          Your second paragraph proceeds from the assumption that a secular state is to be preferred. Note that this is a value judgement, not something that can be directly observed empirically — yet you appear to believe it is true nonetheless.

          By the way, you didn’t answer my question: “Do you think it is a good idea to have the state ignore any truth as a firm matter of principle?” My own answer would be, “Not exactly as a ‘firm matter of principle’, but sometimes as a firm matter of policy.” Three examples of situations in which it is best for the state to ignore truths — or at least, not to act on them — are in cases of double jeopardy, in cases where evidence was obtained illegally, and in cases where a statute of limitations has expired. Even in these cases, ignoring the truth is not an ideal — which is why I call it a policy, not a principle — but it is, in some circumstances, the optimal response to our fallen human condition. It is for just that reason that many religious people have favored some sort of “secular” state, though their preferred model for a state might not be secular enough to suit your preferences. Then again, you are rather unclear when you say, “… the question here isn’t whether the state can consider religious beliefs, it’s whether the state should be giving preference to one religious belief ….” How do you propose to “consider” religious belief without “giving preference” to it?

          • ahermit

            You’re just muddying the waters now aren’t you?

            We’re not actually talking about making policy here, we’re talking about people using the power and resources of the state to preferentially promote their particular religious tradition.

          • Howard

            No, not at all. I don’t think you or anyone else cares as much about whether lawmakers walk by a monument to the Ten Commandments on their way work as about whether the laws they pass reflect the worldview contained in the Ten Commandments. What they do with their position in government is what is at issue; the landscaping is only symbolic of the larger issue.

          • ahermit

            That kind of display functions as a kind of instruction to everyone who walks by it, that’s the objection. It’s the state telling us which religion to follow.

          • Howard

            I notice you use “us”. Have you walked by it?

          • ahermit

            And now you’re just trolling. Have a nice day.

          • Howard

            Again, not really. This is not an instruction to the public how to worship, because the public will rarely walk by it. Your concerns are fatuous. To the extent that the monument has any meaning whatsoever, it is as a reminder to lawmakers of the standards they are to uphold. It is like the statue of “Lady Justice” outside the supreme courts of many nations — those statues are obviously not “a kind of instruction” to the general public regarding how these people are to pass judgement, because the general public does not actually pass judgement.

  • JohnE_o

    Which God does the following refer to?

    “I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

  • Fourteen

    The secularist strategy is to have all religious monuments removed from public space by challenging the right of any religious belief system to display their symbol. The courts will be compelled to issue a “fair: ruling, allowing any monument to stand or in the alternative, as we see in Oklahoma situation, have the religious monument removed. This secularist strategy is turning the courts because attorney’s who argue in defense of religious beliefs, do so, absent passion in their presentation. Yes, applying the law is absolutely necessary to win cases however, not exclusively. If there is no passion intermingled with the law, especially in cases that tug at the public heart, we will continue a tug of war in the courts.

    Minds are rarely changed because of the law. Minds are changed because the argument touches the heart and while my statement does not at all, suggest the the general public lacks the ability to interpret complicated law, one has to admit that the success in court by the anti-religious are primarily because their arguments cut through legal arguments and lands right on the heart like a decent dose of epinephrine.

    Our religious argument needs a dose of St. Augustine of Hippo.

    Peace,

    Fourteen

    • http://www.skjam.com SKJAM!

      We should distinguish between “public space” and “government property” here. A public space that is privately owned (for example, many parks) would have no problem displaying any religious symbols the owners chose to allow. But a government space that displays religious symbols is taken to be endorsing same, and thus conflicting with the First Amendment.

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      This wasn’t a success for just the anti-religious but for that Baptist preacher and every USAzen. The local government officials were violating their peoples’ freedom of religion. The preacher recognized that just because he supports the ten commandments doesn’t mean the people serving him and all the other people in his area should be enforcing their display.

  • Howard

    There is no reason for any Christian to be upset about a statue of Baphomet, which the owners intend as a sophomoric jest rather than a genuine item of worship, while remaining untroubled by, for example, the statues of Hindu deities in the three Hindu temples in Detroit, where the worship is unfeigned.

  • GABRIEL

    God owns the planet.

    If “the government” does not wish to obey the laws of GOD or display His laws in public, they have violated the terms agreement that allowed them to stay on a planet they have not created themselves.

    Therefore “the government” must leave Gods property and proceed to the only place allowed for those who will not obey God, and that place is HELL.

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      No god claims to own the planet, nor does a god claim there is a hell. People claim that stuff.

  • Riley Tanaka

    The Baptist minister’s involvement is not surprising. I grew up a Southern Baptist, and church/state separation is a key element of the doctrine:

    “Church and state should be separate…No ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind…A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” (Baptist Faith and Message XVII)