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.
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!
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.
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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.