Lawsuit fights Ten Commandments display

A Baptist minister is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to have a monument displaying the Ten Commandments removed from the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds.

By Bob Allen

The executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking removal of a Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City.

bruce prescottBruce Prescott, an ordained Baptist minister and member of NorthHaven Church in Norman, Okla., joined three other Oklahoma taxpayers in the lawsuit filed Aug. 19 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma in Oklahoma County District Court.

The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission oversaw placement of the monument on the north side of the building in 2012. It was placed by legislation in 2009, and paid for with $10,000 donated and raised privately by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, a Southern Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher at Arrow Heights Baptist Church in Broken Arrow and House sponsor of the bill.

Prescott complained to the Oklahoma ACLU last year after viewing the monument on trips to the Capitol, including three visits to discuss statewide opposition to payday lending among Baptists involved with the New Baptist Covenant movement.

Prescott said as a Baptist minister, he is not opposed to displaying the Ten Commandments on private property or at religious institutions, but it is improper on the grounds of the State Capitol where people of various faiths and no faiths go to exercise their rights as citizens.

The lawsuit claims the monument, which includes both an English translation of the Commandments and religious symbols from Christianity and Judaism, “conveys an explicit religious message that supports and endorses the faiths and creeds of some churches and sects" while derogating other faiths not consistent with its message.

Prescott and fellow plaintiff Jim Huff, a member at First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, also object to "co-option of their religious traditions, resulting in a cheapening and degradation of their shared faith.”

"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," Prescott said in a press release.