Sep 15, 2011

On November 5, 2004, an eight-foot-tall monument with the Ten Commandments engraved on one side was erected on the Haskell County courthouse lawn in Stigler, Oklahoma. A local minister had spearheaded the effort to erect the monument, promising the County’s Board of Commissioners that he would raise funds at local churches to pay for the project. After the board approved the project, the minister asked to engrave the Mayflower Compact on the other side of the monument in an effort to insulate it from legal challenges. The monument was dedicated in a ceremony involving several ministers and two County Commissioners. A Stigler resident filed suit in federal district court, challenging the monument’s constitutionality. In August 2006, the district court held that the monument was constitutional, principally because the county’s purpose in allowing it was the display’s historical value. The plaintiff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. We filed an amicus brief in January 2007, arguing both that Religious Right organizations are using governmental displays of the Ten Commandments to project a message of religious exclusion and intolerance because they feel threatened by America’s increasing religious and ethnic diversity, and that, against this historical backdrop, contemporary displays of the Ten Commandments convey a message inimical to the Establishment Clause. The brief concluded that "after a decade-long campaign to reclaim America from religious heterogeneity, the Christian Right has transformed the Commandments into a potent symbol of Christian supremacy — and ergo, a symbol of the inferior status of non-Christians in the political and legal spheres." Oral argument was held on October 4, 2007. On June 8, 2009, the Tenth Circuit reversed the lower court decision, holding that the Ten Commandments display violated the Constitution. The court concluded that the primary effect of the display was to endorse religion, because a reasonable observer would have concluded from the board members’ statements that the Board endorsed the display’s religious message. The county filed a petition for rehearing en banc, but the court denied the petition on July 30, 2009. On October 28, 2009, the county petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.