Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy, Part 1

The little town of Stigler, Oklahoma (pop. 2,500) may be providing the best symbol for the American Theocracy that is the subject of Kevin Phillips latest book. Yesterday I provided testimony in the ACLU's case against the Haskell County Ten Commandments courthouse monument at the District Court in Muskogee, Oklahoma. My testimony was limited to matters of fact about the rally to "Save the Ten Commandments Monument" that I attended in Stigler on November 19, 2005. I wrote a report and was prepared to serve as expert witness, but the judged did not allow any expert testimony. This is the first of a series of blogs in which I express an opinion on questions about Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy.

The Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the Haskell County Courthouse in Stigler, Oklahoma has an inscription on both sides. One side bears an inscription of the Ten Commandments. The other side bears an inscription of the Mayflower Compact.


The Ten Commandments:

The religious nature of the source document from which the Ten Commandments are taken is clear. That source is the Bible. Within the Bible the Ten Commandments are listed in two places: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The Ten Commandments that are inscribed on the monument in Stigler concludes with a citation to "Exodus 20." The religious nature of the author of the Ten Commandments, as recorded in the Bible, is clear. The Bible attributes the Ten Commandments to God saying, "He (God) gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God." (Exodus 31:18)

The religious nature of the first four commandments, often called the "first table" of the law of Moses, is clear. The commands to 1) have no other gods before me, 2) not make any graven image, 3) not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and to 4) remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy -- all relate specifically to worship of the God of the Bible.

The Mayflower Compact:

The fusion of religion and nationalism that existed everywhere in the seventeenth century is clearly expressed in the Mayflower Compact. Those who signed the Compact identified themselves as "loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord King James" who ruled "by the grace of God," and was described as the "defender of the faith." The religious motives of glorifying God and advancing the Christian faith are the clearly stated purposes given in the text of the Mayflower Compact for the voyage and settlement. It says, "Having undertaken for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia."

In my opinion, yes, the texts on both sides of the monument are religious in nature.

Testimony to this effect might have been important. The county commissioners who authorized the erection of the monument contend that the texts on the monument are NOT religious. They say the texts are "historical" in nature.


Permanent signs and monuments on public property in Haskell County Oklahoma must be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. In the eyes of the public, permanent displays on public property, therefore, can be reasonably presumed to carry an aura of governmental approval, authenticity, importance and endorsement.

The first four commandments relate uniquely to the worship of the God of the Bible. They are listed only in the legal codes of religions that accept, in some measure, the authority of the Hebrew Bible. In the eyes of some who do not accept the authority of the Hebrew scriptures, a clear signal of their status as an "outsider" to Stigler society is being signaled by the government's sanction, approval and endorsement of a permanent monument on the grounds of the courthouse that is inscribed with laws commanding the worship of the Biblical God and prescribing how and when that worship should be observed. The perceived implication is that Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Wiccans, the practitioners of Native American faiths, and the adherents of many other faiths may be viewed as second-class citizens in that county and may not receive impartial justice in that courthouse.

The size, position and placement of the monument on the grounds of the courthouse gives it a prominence that serves to underscore its importance. The monument is approximately 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The lettering is large and distinct. The side engraved with the Ten Commandments faces Main Street which is the main thoroughfare through the city. The monument is placed near the street where the title "The Ten Commandments" can be easily read by motorists as they drive by the courthouse. None of the other monuments at the courthouse have the same prominence and visibility from the city's Main Street. Other large monuments are far from the street and the lettering is so small that only a pedestrian that approached the monument could read the text. Another small monument, a monument to unmarked graves, is positioned near Main Street, beside the Ten Commandments monument, but the lettering is so small and indistinct that only a pedestrian could read the text. Most of the other monuments were erected to honor the memory of the dead. Monuments honor those who died in World War I, or World War II, or the Vietnam War, or the Trail of Tears, and those who were buried in unmarked graves. No monument, other than the Ten Commandments Monument, promotes religion or communicates a religious message.

The size, position and placement of the Ten Commandments monument is akin to that of a billboard designed to send a message to all who drive by the Haskell County Courthouse. It's prominence on government property constitutes an endorsement of the message that it is conveying. The message conveyed is religious. It says to every passing motorist, "This city is governed by biblical law as symbolized by 'The Ten Commandments.'"

In my opinion, yes, the monument endorses a biblical form of religion.

Testimony to this effect might have been important. The commissioners who authorized the erection of the monument admit that they "do not believe in separation of church and state" but deny that the monument endorses religion.

Tomorrow I'll blog about the following questions:

Does the Monument Endorse a Sectarian Interpretation of the Bible?
Does the Monument Endorse a Christian Covenant?


A Seeker said...

Is the word "Adultery" misspelled on the monument? Or is it just my old eyes playing tricks on me?

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


Someone chiselled their mistake into stone.