The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Oklahoma’s controversial Ten Commandments monument was quietly removed overnight

Workers remove the controversial Ten Commandments monument from its base on the grounds of the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, late Oct. 5. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)
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A 4,800-pound Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds was removed by workers in the dark on Monday and transported to the offices of a private conservative think tank.

The move followed a decision in June from the Oklahoma Supreme Court that the statue violates a state constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”

The monument, a 6-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide slab of stone shaped into two tablets, paid for with private donations and approved by the legislature, was installed at the statehouse in Oklahoma City in 2012.

On Monday, the monument was moved between 10:15 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus said Tuesday.

Estus said that the decision to remove the monument in the dark was made to avoid disturbing workers at the Oklahoma Capitol, while heavy equipment was being used to detach the statue, and to avoid protesters.

“We wanted it removed as quickly and safely as possible with little interruption as we could,” he said. “We didn’t want disturbance that could’ve complicated the removal.”

Estus estimated that at least two dozen troopers were present, while maybe five or six residents showed up.

“There were legitimate security concerns. The patrol heard enough chatter after the court ruling,” Estus said. “There was a little hooting and hollering from a few folks who showed up, but it went smoothly.”

The state paid the same group that installed the monument about $4,700 to remove it and take it to the offices of the conservative think tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where it will be on public display, Estus said.

In the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s June ruling, seven of the nine justices noted that their opinion “rests solely on the Oklahoma constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence.”

[Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments statue must be removed, state Supreme Court says]

The justices wrote, “As concerns the ‘historic purpose’ justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Because the monument at issue operates for the use, benefit or support of a sect or system of religion, it violates Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution and is enjoined and shall be removed.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in July that the monument would stay put, despite the court’s ruling. Fallin said at the time that “the court got it wrong,” adding that the monument would remain in place while the state attempted to appeal the court’s decision. No appeals were successful, but the state legislature has signaled interest in placing a state question on the ballot next year that would address the constitutional issue that led the courts to order the monument removed, Estus said.

[Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments statue isn’t going anywhere, governor says]

The governor and proponents of the monument claimed the monument’s presence is no different from a Christmas tree lighting held at the Capitol every year or Native American works of art that include symbols of religion, tribal culture and history that are permitted to be displayed on government property.

Religious groups, including a Hindu organization, and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, had proposed their own statues for placement on the Capitol grounds. The Satanic Temple had constructed a statue that weighs about a ton to sit alongside the Ten Commandments monument.

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