To clear up some confusion, I’d like to briefly compare and contrast the recently filed Americans Atheists lawsuit [press release, PDF] against the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument with the ACLU lawsuit [press release, PDF] against the very same monument, which was filed a few months ago.
The ACLU suit was filed in the state courts, and relies upon a plain reading of the Oklahoma Constitution (Article 2, §5) for relief:
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.
The ACLU suit alleges that the monument is now “chattel property of the State of Oklahoma, having been donated to the people of the State of Oklahoma and placed upon public land on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol” and because of its exclusive religious message, the constitutional “prohibition on use of public property for sectarian or religious benefit is violated by the placement and continued display of the Ten Commandments Monument.”
The American Atheists suit was filed in federal district court, rather than a state court, and puts forth federal claims “predicated on violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States, The Supremacy Clause, and Article VI, cl. 2 and Article VI, cl. 3 of the Constitution of the United States.” That last clause is about how the legislators swore an oath to uphold the federal Constitution, and violated that oath by voting to erect a religious monument. The remaining citations to constitutional law call for application of existing First Amendment jurisprudence, which I wrote about on the AOK blog some time ago, back when the monument was first erected. Essentially, the monument constitutes an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the state, prohibited by the First Amendment (which applies to the States via the 14th) and its “coercive effect on those with faith traditions inconsistent with those supported by the Display, force Plaintiffs to endure a continuing violation of the peoples’ liberty of conscience, committed in their names as citizens of Oklahoma.”
I like to think of these suits as prongs in a two-pronged attack, each looking to find a fatal weakness in a different way. I’m proud to support both organizations and I’m very proud of my friends who were bold enough to stand up as plaintiffs.