Ten Commandments Bill Passes Through Committee

Thursday, February 12th 2009, 9:39 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY - The debate about displaying the Ten Commandments in the state's capitol continued Thursday, after a member of the state House presented a bill that would allow for the biblical monument to be erected in state capitol.

Representative Mike Ritze (R-District 80) told members of the House General Government Committee that a three-by-six-foot Ten Commandments display similar to the one at the Texas Capitol would inspire those who see it.

Critics argue those who do not share similar religious beliefs may be insulted or disagree with Ritze's perspective of the monument.

"I think they're being overlooked and I don't think that's the proper thing that the state of Oklahoma should be doing by putting a monument out that basically endorses a certain segment of society to the exclusion of others," Representative Wallace Collins (D-District 45) said.

Ritze counters the argument by saying the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't see it that way, ruling five votes to four votes in the 2005 Van Orton case, that the Texas monument did not violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause.

Oklahoma ACLU officials said they believe a similar monument in Oklahoma would violate the Constitutional rights of Oklahomans.

"We have to keep in mind that same day the Supreme Court decided Van Orton, they decided McReary, which states a Ten Commandments monument that was in a state Capitol in Kentucky was unconstitutional," said Tamya Cox of the ACLU. "This is more like McReary than Van Orton."

Ultimately, committee members cast eight votes to three votes in favor, meaning the bill will move on to the full House.

"It's a goal of mine to always remind ourselves of our moral compass," Representative Ritze said. "The moral compass is basically as stated in the Ten Commandments for over 3,500 years."

Representative Ritze said the monument would not be paid for with tax dollars, he and his family, he said, plan to pay the $10,000 cost.

However, tax dollars would be used to pay for site planning and preparation work, as well as for any legal costs, should the monument's constitutionality be challenged in court.

Representative Ritze said he doesn't know at this point where the monument would go, if the bill becomes law. He said his preference is that it would be located outside, somewhere where it would be easily seen by people coming and going from the Capitol.