A national atheist organization has filed a federal lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma Capitol and seeking its removal.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Oklahoma City federal court, lists members of the State Capitol Preservation Commission as defendants.
The monument was installed in 2012 under legislation passed in 2009 and signed by Gov. Brad Henry.
The lawsuit was filed by American Atheists Inc., a New Jersey nonprofit organization, and two of its members, Oklahoma City resident Aimee Breeze and Wagoner County resident William Poire.
Breeze and Poire contend that the monument is an endorsement of religion by the state, and the presence of the monument discourages them from visiting the Capitol to exercise their constitutional rights because the display is contrary to their views.
Breeze, who is involved with several advocacy groups, regularly travels to the Capitol and attends legislative sessions.
“While at the state Capitol, she is confronted by the Ten Commandments display, which she views as hurtful and exclusive and therefore avoids the area of the Display while at the Capitol,” the complaint reads.
The complaint argues that the monument is an explicit endorsement of religion and also discriminates against the religious rights of others.
The lawsuit contends:
• Commandments on the monument against graven images and against taking the Lord's name in vain violate free speech rights under the First Amendment.
• The fourth commandment to obey the Sabbath violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
• The tenth commandment against “coveting thy neighbor's wife” creates a “thought crime,” in violation of equal protection privileges under state law.
The lawsuit also challenges religious symbolism on the monument including the Star of David and the “Eye of Providence.”
The display, donated by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, was installed on Capitol grounds Nov. 15, 2012, under the direction and with the permission of the commission.
The placement of any other monuments on Capitol grounds was halted in December until the dispute has been resolved.
If monuments are permitted by the state, American Atheists Inc. also wishes to erect one with its guiding principles written upon it.
Last December, the New York-based Satanic Temple sought to erect a monument on Capitol grounds, and a Nevada Hindu leader and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals quickly followed suit before the moratorium.
The state attorney general's office, which is defending the commission in a similar suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, had not received a copy of the lawsuit late Tuesday and has not been asked to defend the commission in the suit.
Calls to the commission were not returned.