American Atheists is suing the state of Oklahoma in federal court over a graven image of Mosaic law that the legislature plopped outside the statehouse in 2009. Judge Robin Cauthron denied the state’s motions to dismiss against two plaintiffs yesterday, meaning the trial will move forward. You can read the decision here; we especially enjoyed this passage:
It is the context in which a monument exists that plays a significant role in whether or not a monument runs afoul of the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court in Van Orden recognized this fact as it noted the monument challenged in that case was in a large park containing 17 monuments and 21 historical markers all designed to illustrate the “ideals” of those who settled in Texas. Id., at 702. The presence of other monuments created a context in which the display promoted historical significance, rather than solely religious belief. As Justice Breyer noted in his concurring opinion in Van Orden, the courts must exercise their legal judgment and consider the physical setting of the monument, examining the overall context in which it resides. Id. at 701-02 (Breyer, J., concurring).
Here, the factual allegations made by Plaintiffs assert the challenged monument stands alone. That is a far different circumstance for placement of the monument than that at issue in Van Orden. Thus, contrary to Defendants’ argument, this case is not the same as Van Orden and Defendants’ motion will be denied on the Establishment Clause claim.
In other words, Oklahoma is charged with giving a Judeo-Christian idol primacy on its grounds, violating the Establishment Clause, and will face trial on that basis. Waiting in the wings, of course, is a somewhat creepy but intriguing statue of Baphomet: if the atheists lose, the Satanic Temple say they will sue to put their statue ten feet from the Ten Commandments. But if the atheists win, then neither monument will inhabit the state capitol grounds.
No matter how this suit comes out, Oklahoma taxpayers lose.
This case will probably cost roughly the same amount as Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia law that was overturned in a federal court. Like Alabama, a state that has also wasted millions on abortion laws and anti-immigrant legislation since 2010, Oklahoma has broken its budget with tax cuts in recent years while increasing the tax burden on poor and middle class residents and suppressing wages. Somehow there is no money for education in Oklahoma, or storm shelters, or workers, but there is plenty of money to defend legislation that has zero chance of working out well for Oklahoma.
We think there is little chance that the Satanists will get a chance to press their claim. But if you want to see what the state house might look like with a Satanic monument near the Ten Commandments, try a Google image search for “ten commandments monument in Oklahoma,” because the internet has already tied the two idols together.