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Oklahoma salute sought for commandments

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: January 27, 2009
A lawmaker says it’s time Oklahoma had its monument featuring the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds.

No state money would be used to buy or place the monument, said Rep. Mike Ritze, author of House Bill 1330 on the matter. He would leave it up to state officials to decide where the monument, expected to cost no more than $10,000, should go.

Ritze, elected last year to the Legislature, said Cecil B. DeMille, director of the 1956 film epic "The Ten Commandments,” gave money to the Fraternal Order of Eagles to fund monuments across the country depicting the commandments. Some of the film’s main stars, such as Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, went to unveilings.

"I thought, ‘Where’s ours in Oklahoma?’ So when I got elected, I contacted the Capitol preservation people and they couldn’t find it,” said Ritze, R-Broken Arrow.

"There’s one record from the Fraternal Order of Eagles that we had one donated, but I don’t know if it never got shipped or whether it’s in storage. I wanted to make sure we had one.”

The monument in Texas
The monument would be similar to the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds in Austin, he said. The 6-foot monolith was the object of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that questioned whether a government-sponsored display of the commandments violated the First Amendment. The Supreme Court upheld a federal appellate court ruling that the display was constitutional because it conveyed both a religious and secular message.

"A large part of our law comes out of the Ten Commandments,” Ritze said. "It’s another historical document that is part of our law.”

House Bill 1330

Attorney General Drew Edmondson had no comment on House Bill 1330, but if it becomes law, he would defend it against any constitutional challenge, said a spokeswoman, Emily Lang.

House Democratic leader Danny Morgan of Prague said there are more important issues, such as a budget gap, tuition costs and joblessness.

"I would hope that we would take care of those problems before we move on to the Ten Commandments,” Morgan said. "We need to be very careful when we start mandating that that can be allowed. I would suspect that there may be other religious groups who might want to also put ... their religion on the Capitol grounds.”

The measure states the monument should not be considered to mean the state favors any particular religion or denomination, "but rather will be placed on the Capitol grounds where there are numerous other monuments.”


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