Take it Away, Haskell County

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court_house_2007_Stigler_006.jpgThank God for the Haskell County (Ok.) commissioners. Five years ago, at the time of the erection of a Ten Commandments monument in front of the county courthouse, one of them declared,

That’s what we’re trying to live by, that right there….The good Lord died for me. I can stand for him, and I’m going to….I’m a Christian and I believe in this. I think it’s a benefit to the community.”

And so, the three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals had good reason to suspect that, in voting to permit the erection, the government (i.e. the Haskell County Commission) intended an endorsement of religion. And so, in an opinion written by a judge appointed by George W. Bush, the panel unanimously found the monument to be in violation of the First Amendment ban on laws respecting an establishment of religion.

These days, those eager to adorn public spaces with what Moses brought down from Mount Sinai are usually canny enough to say something like what Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow (or one of his legal advisers) put out in justifying the recently passed law he introduced allowing him to pay for a 10 Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol.

“The monument will simply re-emphasize the history and heritage of our country’s legal system,” Ritze said in a statement.

“Our laws spring from English law, which is
ultimately rooted in Mosaic law. The history of many of our current
laws can be traced to the Ten Commandments and this monument will
simply acknowledge that heritage,” said Ritze, an osteopath by

Well, if they honored all the roots–including that great Saxon lawgiver Wotan, I’d be happy to go along. But who’s kidding whom?

At least, since the Haskell County decision, neighboring Flores County has backed off following suit–but not because its governing authorities have awoken to the knowledge that to do so would violate an important national principle.

Former Poteau Mayor Don Barnes,
who was spearheading the effort for the monument, said after consulting
with his legal adviser, it was decided to abandon the local project.

“I hate it. Everybody hates it. No one likes it,” Barnes said of the
court decision. “But we don’t have any choice. We don’t want the county
to be sued.”

Small mercies.