Today many conservatives are struggling to process the world around them. The culture war has been lost, and gay marriage is now a nationwide right. Regrettably, some decent but desperate conservatives have embraced reactionary battles. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the state of Oklahoma.
On June 30th, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court decided a privately funded ten commandments monument on state property violated Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution. The clause in question reads as follows.
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, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
Leading Oklahoma conservatives were (and still are) apoplectic. A few outraged voices suggested impeaching the wayward judges. Other prominent conservatives, among them Attorney General Scott Pruitt, appear ready to repeal the offensive clause. Hasty remedies are rarely wise, and this situation is no exception.
It would be legislative malpractice to impeach judges for one controversial act of constitutional interpretation. Judicial independence must not be undermined because one paragraph in the state constitution plausibly supports two vastly different readings.
Likewise, cultural battles do not justify the elimination of Oklahoma’s solemn contractual promise to treat all religious traditions impartially. By seeking the removal of Article 2, Section 5, some conservative Oklahoma leaders are unwisely trying to open the gates to a more powerful state government that possesses the authority to meddle in the religious marketplace.
The Oklahoma monument also raises federal constitutional questions. A decade ago the US Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that deemed two particular ten commandment themed courthouse exhibits unconstitutional. According to the Supreme Court, the legislative and physical context of the displays showed religious partiality – not a secular purpose. Oklahoma’s monument arguably suffers from the same defect.
Religious monuments are controversial precisely because they represent the very essence of humanity, belief. Nevertheless, our capacity for reason allows us to hope that our leaders will act in a dispassionate fashion. Alas, passion often stymies reason, and laudable motives lead to unforeseen consequences. Beleaguered conservatives must never lose sight of the fact that an aloof and disinterested government is the greatest protection conscientious individuals could ever possess.
Only wary and thoughtful citizens can protect a state or nation from misguided leaders. Oklahoma voters should rebuff and reprove the conservative leaders who want to amend the state constitution. Oklahoma’s legislature does not need the power of partiality, and the capitol grounds look fine without a myriad of religious monuments encamped on public property.