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OKLAHOMA CITY – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation filed a lawsuit today on behalf of several Oklahomans challenging the constitutionality of the state's Ten Commandments Monument.
"The monument's placement at the Capitol has created a more divisive and hostile state for many Oklahomans," said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma's executive director. "When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal."
The lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma County District Court, seeks to have the religious monument removed, citing the constitutional prohibition on using state property to support particular religions or sects.
"On fundamental matters of faith, the state has no business telling its citizens what to believe," said Daniel Mach, director of the national ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "No one should be made to feel unwelcome at their own state Capitol."
The lawsuit also seeks to remedy the state monument's impact on Jewish and Christian believers. The government has taken a text that, in various forms, is deeply sacred in both of these faiths and have trivialized its religious meaning by placing it in a political and secular context, with its proponents arguing that the monument is a constitutionally permissible recitation of a purely non-religious history of our legal system and government.
"To argue that the monument merely commemorates something historical rather than religious is a slap in the face to the many Oklahomans, like myself, who incorporate the Ten Commandments into our religious practice," said Plaintiff Bruce Prescott of Norman, an ordained Baptist minister and theologian.
Other plaintiffs in the case include Jim Huff, a former educator from Oklahoma City, as well as retired businessman Donald Chabot, also of Oklahoma City, and former social studies teacher Cheryl Franklin, of Enid.
"We must ensure that Oklahoma welcomes people of all faiths and those of no faith at all," said Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma legal director. "Our suit asks the court to enforce a simple and fundamental rule that the government does not get to use its vast power and influence to tell you what you should believe."
"We aim to ensure the freedom of future generations of Oklahomans to make their own decisions about faith remains intact and free from political interference," said Ryan Kiesel. "Whether you choose to believe in a god, a creed, a code, or simply to believe in yourself, your choice should be your own, not coerced or influenced by what the government wants you to believe."