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Satanists, Hindus want monuments on Oklahoma Capitol grounds

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 5:00 p.m. MST

When the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill in 2009 ordering that a monument of the Ten Commandments be placed on the state Capitol grounds, opponents warned that the law could cause problems.

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When the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill in 2009 ordering that a monument of the Ten Commandments be placed on the state Capitol grounds, opponents warned the law invited trouble.

More than four years later, those predicted problems started this month with applications from two other groups that want equal space with the commandments.

"On Dec. 2 the Satanic Temple, an organisation based in New York, launched a campaign to donate a monument of its own, to be placed next to the Ten Commandments monument," The Economist reported. "It promised that the monument would be 'public-friendly' and something children could play on."

And this week, the Universal Society of Hinduism applied to erect a statue of Hanuman, the monkey king, and one of the most revered deity in Hinduism, the world's third largest faith, according to Religion News Service.

State officials shouldn't be surprised by these requests.

The Oklahoma ACLU warned lawmakers before the 10 Commandments went up that by allowing one religious group to have its say at that location, others would follow, according to Reuters.

"We opposed this because it shouldn't be the business of the state government to make decisions on how appropriate people's religions are," Brady Henderson, legal analyst for the Oklahoma ACLU, said to Reuters.

But lawmakers are calling the request by the Satanists "a joke" and they plan to block requests for competing monuments, according to the Tulsa World.

"This is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state," Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, told the World. "I think it is very offensive (the Satanic Temple) would contemplate or even have this kind of conversation."

"It is not going to get approved here without a court battle," added Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove. "I can assure you."

Oklahoma lawmakers believe they have the law on their side, citing past U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have allowed local governments to decide what monuments it can place in public places. Those rulings involved cases in Austin, Texas, and Pleasant Grove, Utah.

But the ACLU sued the state of Oklahoma in August claiming the monument law violates the state's constitution that "forbids using public property to support any system of religion directly or indirectly,” the Economist reported.

Oklahoma officials may have a case for rejecting a monument to Satan, which Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves acknowledges is primarily to make a statement for the separation of church and state.

But the Hindu monument appears a sincere request from a faith-based group that also has the support of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and Baha'i leaders, according to Banglaradio.com.

"There are more temples and roadside shrines to Hanuman than to any other deity in all of North India," RNS reported. "For Hindus, Hanuman is one of the finest exemplars of a life of love and service of God."

Either case, however, reveals the complexities of governing an increasingly pluralistic society.

"The Satanic monument … does serve to raise the level of discussion regarding pluralism, freedom of religion, and the Establishment Clause," wrote Joseph Laycock in Religion Dispatches. "It also sheds light on the very real privileges that Christianity is afforded from our nominally secular government.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @deseretbrown

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