Prominent leaders, such as Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt, continue to agitate for religious intrusion into state government, and the legal cost and damage to Oklahoma’s worldwide image continue to mount.
Now that the Ten Commandments monument has been removed from the state Capitol grounds and installed at the headquarters of the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Fallin is actually urging voters to change the state’s constitution to bring it back.
Yet, even if this were to happen, the monument’s placement on government property would likely still face a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court and even more state taxpayer money would be wasted fighting a lost cause. The U.S. Constitution clearly draws a line between church and state when it comes to such blatant acts of religious intrusion.
Pruitt, of course, was adamant that the Oklahoma Supreme Court made a mistake when it ruled that Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution prohibited the placement of the religious monument at the Capitol.
Pruitt looks ridiculous on this one. Here’s the language to which the high court referred:
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.
Where’s the mistake in the interpretation given the obviousness of the language? Pruitt really makes a mockery of the legal profession with his ongoing statements about the monument.
Pruitt has argued, for example, the monument is historical in some legal sense, but the Ten Commandments—fictional or not—is clearly a subject that appears in the Bible, a religious document. The U.S. Supreme court HAS allowed Texas to keep its Ten Commandments monument on its state property, but the circumstances are remarkably different than the Oklahoma case. It’s part of a bigger display of other monuments that has been around and went unchallenged for decades. In cases similar to Oklahoma’s basic single-handed effort by a deeply religious legislator to place a religious artifact on government property, SCOTUS has ruled against the religious zealots and in favor of separation.
Pruitt has a clear reason to pander to the fundies here. He might want to run for another office some day. This is far less clear in Fallin’s case. Does she perceive herself as taking over Inhofe’s U.S. Senate seat in the future? What does she want to do after her second term as governor? That’s what makes this issue such a political sideshow. It’s about pandering. But what about Fallin? It’s about Judeo-Christian extremism. But what if someone wanted to erect an Satanic monument on state grounds, an issue that’s already been raised by one group? It’s about NOTHING having to do with real problems faced by the state, which is dealing with budget issues of tragic proportions and a major teacher shortage.
These cultural battles deflect attention away from income disparity in this state and world and create a mob mentality over something that doesn’t matter. People can read the Ten Commandments anytime they want. The can even put up monuments about them on their own property or in their own homes. They can wear t-shirts that display them. They can memorize and recite them throughout their day.
Fallin and Pruitt know this, but they also know they can manipulate voters by creating false narratives about “judicial overreach.” The religious fundamentalists in this state violate the tenets of their own belief system when they ignore the poor or even growing college student loan debt and make the worship of a monument the cornerstone of their indignant outrage. Even more ridiculous is that their efforts violate at least one commandment. How can you “honor thy father and mother” when you adamantly and self-righteously refuse fathers and mothers access to health care because of right-wing political ideology?
Even The Oklahoman editorial board knows how wrong all this is, but it won’t admit its own culpability in the matter through its support of both Fallin and Pruitt as political candidates. This could be considered bearing “false witness,” which is another violation of the Ten Commandments, a crude mixture of sophomoric, ambiguous blather.
Each new development in this spectacle gets reported in the national media, and Oklahoma becomes a worldwide laughingstock. Meanwhile, the state may well face a $1 billion budget shortfall next fiscal year yet our state leaders focus on this crude silliness and ensure we look like bumpkins to the rest of the civilized world. Thou shall not say you’re from Oklahoma when you travel unless you’re in Texas or Arkansas.