Counties acknowledging the immense historical significance of the Ten Commandments would have the support of the Oklahoma Legislature if challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), according to legislation by Sen. James Williamson that was approved by the Senate on Monday.
“This legislation makes it clear that we were going to stand up to the ACLU and others who have been fighting efforts display Ten Commandments monuments in places like county courthouses,” said Williamson, R-Tulsa. “There are a lot of people who strongly support having the Ten Commandments displayed on public grounds. But they’ve been so intimidated and harassed by the ACLU and others who’ve threatened to sue that they are reluctant to erect even a privately-funded monument, though the Ten Commandments are so basic to our nation’s laws that they are displayed on the building that houses the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Williamson’s amendment to Senate Bill 1878, by Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, would allow county commissioners to approve the display of the Ten Commandments on county property after having been advised by the Office of the District Attorney or the Office of the Attorney General how to do so in a constitutional manner, and would allow the state Attorney General to defend counties from lawsuits challenging such a display.
The legislation also would provide $3 million from the state’s General Revenue Fund for district attorneys to cover the costs of defending legal challenges to displays of the Ten Commandments on public property when the Attorney General declines to provide the legal defense.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July that public displays highlighting the historical significance of the Ten Commandments are permitted under the Constitution, the ACLU filed a lawsuit last fall against Haskell County officials who voted to display a 10 Commandments monument created with private funds on the lawn of the county courthouse in Stigler.
More than seven in 10 Americans approve of displaying the Ten Commandments in public places, revealed a poll conducted by the Pew Forum in 2004. But too often the voters’ desires have been held hostage by the threat of a costly legal battle, said Williamson.
“With $1 billion in growth revenue this year, we can afford to help our counties with this problem,” Williamson said. “I strongly believe that if the Legislature would show our support for the efforts of county officials to show the historical significance of the Ten Commandments by providing $3 million to the district attorneys in this state to help fight off these lawsuits, we can help counties stand up to those liberal special interest groups trying to intimidate them.”
SB 1878 will next be considered by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.