Ten Commandments Displays Are Great For Houses Of Worship. Government, Not So Much.

An Oklahoma man believes God wants him to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the steps of the Pittsburg County Courthouse. Fortunately, the county commissioners are a little wary of the proposal.

Tim Mitchell made his pitch to the commissioners on Monday. When a writer with the McAlester News-Capital asked Mitchell what led him to launch this crusade, he replied, “I was told by God to do it two years ago. He’s really telling me to do it now.”

Displays like this are fine for houses of worship, but they don't belong on government property. 

I have no idea what God may or may not have told Mitchell, but I do know that the commissioners would be wise to keep his proposal at arm’s length. Oklahoma’s recent history with government-sponsored Ten Commandments displays is instructive.

In 2012, state legislators arranged to erect a six-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. That didn’t sit well with some people. Among them was Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister and former member of Americans United Board of Trustees. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Prescott challenged the religious display in state court and won.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that the monument’s presence on government property violated Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which states in part, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church denomination or system of religion….”

Angry Oklahoma lawmakers huffed and puffed about impeaching the state high court justices, but then decided on another response: They arranged to put a question on the ballot in November 2016 asking voters if they wanted to get rid of Article 2, Section 5.

But even in this deep red state, voters didn’t buy it. State Question 790 was rejected 57 percent to 43 percent. Article 2, Section 5 remains intact.

All of this sends an obvious message: The county commissioners are only asking for legal trouble if they vote to endorse Mitchell’s idea. To his credit, the commissioners’ legal counsel, Chuck Sullivan, made that clear during the meeting.

Mitchell said he doesn’t plan to give up and that he’s pursuing other options. I have a suggestion: He could display the Ten Commandments on his own front lawn, or offer the monument to a local house of worship.