OKLAHOMA CITY — A Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is a religious symbol and must be removed because it violates the state's constitutional ban on using public property to benefit a religion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The court said the Ten Commandments chiseled into the 6-foot-tall granite monument, which was privately funded by a Republican legislator, are "obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths."
The 7-2 ruling overturns a decision by a district court judge who determined the monument could stay. It prompted calls by a handful of Republican lawmakers for impeachment of the justices who said the monument must be removed.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt had argued that the monument was historical in nature and nearly identical to a Texas monument that was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Oklahoma justices said the local monument violated the state's constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.
"Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong," Pruitt said in a statement. "The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law."
Pruitt said his office would ask the court for a rehearing and that the monument will be allowed to stay until the court considers his request. Pruitt also suggested the provision in the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the use of public money for religious purposes may need to be repealed.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, said Pruitt's suggestion and the calls for impeachment amounted to sour grapes.
"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," Kiesel said. "And the calls for impeachment represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how an independent judiciary functions within our system of democratic government."
Since the original monument was erected in 2012, several other groups have asked to put up their own monuments on the Capitol grounds. Among them is a group that wants to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group, and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also have made requests.
Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow whose family paid about $10,000 for the monument's construction, pushed the bill authorizing the monument. He said he hoped the attorney general would appeal the ruling.
The original monument was smashed into pieces in October, when someone drove a car across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A 29-year-old man who was arrested the next day was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment, and formal charges were never filed.
A new monument was built and put up in January.
Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy