After the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a Ten Commandments display benefits one religion and must be removed from public property, Republican state Rep. Mike Ritze, who sponsored the monument, said that he will continue fighting for its presence on capitol grounds.
In a 7-2 ruling, the court overturned previous decisions saying that the monument was permitted on the property, adding that it exclusively promotes the Jewish and Christian faiths and is "obviously religious in nature," the Associated Press reported.
Ritze, who is also a doctor, told TheBlaze in the wake of the ruling that he and his wife decided 30 years ago to home-school their children, feeling at the time that public schools were "not teaching the basics and [were] erasing our history and heritage."
Years later, he said that he and his family wanted to ensure that others learned the origins of American heritage as well.
A Ten Commandments monument erected outside the Oklahoma state Capitol is shown on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. (Credit: Sean Murphy/AP)
"I felt like we needed to have a monument there to show current and future generations where a lot of our laws derive from," he said. "That's how the monument evolved."
But Ritze said that he never intended for the symbol to be seen as religious, instead calling it a historical necessity that provides context for all citizens regarding the emergence and crafting of American law.
"I like history and I look at history and what we were teaching our children ... we wanted to link them to as much as the original history — different facts that are being erased in our history," he said. "In no way, shape or form did we want the monument to be a religious symbol. This is historical heritage of our birth as a nation and birth as a state."
The state Supreme Court clearly saw it differently, though, with the ruling becoming so contentious that some Republican lawmakers called for the justices' impeachment last week. For his part, Ritze told TheBlaze that he believes that the decision was, at the least, poorly crafted.
"The ruling was very, very poorly written. Three pages on the ruling. We can't have this, so here's the reason," he said. "The legal counsel is asking for reconsideration. If it passes, it will stay. [If not], then potentially there will be an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court."
The Ten Commandments monument has been a point of contention since 2012, when Ritze's family paid $10,000 to privately fund it. Two years later, a man reportedly crashed his car into the display, claiming that the devil made him do it; Ritze again paid to repair the structure.
Meanwhile, the Satanic Temple, a New York group, has railed against the Ten Commandments display, with plans of its own to place a satanist monument on capitol grounds in an effort to rail against the Judeo-Christian-themed display. The group's members have temporarily halted those plans in light of the Supreme Court decision, and will likely place the display in another state, according to Talking Points Memo.
This artist's rendering provided by the Satanic Temple shows a proposed monument that the New York-based Satanic group wants to place at the Oklahoma state Capitol. (AP Photo/Satanic Temple)
The recent legal case against the Ten Commandments was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
While legal battles like this generally focus on perceived violations of the U.S. Constitution, there has been a shift in recent years by atheist activists and First Amendment watchdogs to instead use state constitutions as the basis of complaints. Recent challenges to "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance have failed on that front, though this tactic won in the case of the Oklahoma monument.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt argued before the court that the monument was similar to one in Texas that the U.S. Supreme Court validated, though the state's justices said that the Ten Commandments display is a violation, instead, of Oklahoma's constitution, the AP reported.
Pruitt called the ruling "wrong" and said in a statement that the court ignored the historical impact that the Ten Commandments has had on western law, claiming that the justices incorrectly interpreted Article 2, Section 5 of the state's constitution. That section reads:
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.
Despite this law, Ritze said that a supermajority passed a bill to allow the Ten Commandments display and that it was "signed into law by a Democratic governor." He is intent on continuing to defend its presence on capitol grounds.
Pruitt, who said that such a tough interpretation of Article 2, Section 5 text may require repeal as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling, also noted in his statement that the fight is far from over.
"My office will file a petition with the court for a rehearing in light of the broader implications of this ruling on other areas of state law," he said. "In the interim, enforcement of the court’s order cannot occur."
American Civil Liberties Union executive director Ryan Kiesel responded to these claims by saying that it would be inappropriate to change the constitution every time someone didn't get his or her way.
"I think the idea that you go about amending the constitution every time you lose a court battle is a dangerous precedent for anyone to engage in, but in particular for the state's highest attorney to do so," he told the AP. "And the calls for impeachment represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how an independent judiciary functions within our system of democratic government."
In 2005, a U.S. Supreme Court case known as Van Orden v. Perry did find that the Ten Commandments can be constitutionally placed on public property, though the current case, again, hinges on the state constitution and not federal measures.