A case to watch out of Oklahoma – American Atheists, Inc. v. Thompson, No. CIV-14-42-C (W.D. OK 2014) – involves a lawsuit brought by an atheist group challenging the placement of a 2,000 pound Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. American Atheists, Inc. contends that the placement of the monument violates the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. An Oklahoma federal court recently denied a motion to dismiss brought by defendants, members of the Oklahoma State Capitol Preservation Commission, and ruled that the case can proceed.
The Oklahoma federal district court rejected defendants’ argument that the Establishment Clause claim should be dismissed based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005), in which the Supreme Court concluded that an identical Ten Commandments monument in a park did not violate the Constitution. The Oklahoma court noted that Van Orden recognized that “[i]t is the context in which a monument exists that plays a significant role in whether or not a monument runs afoul of the Establishment Clause,” and distinguished the context in Van Orden from the Oklahoma case. The monument in Van Orden was placed in a large park that contained 17 monuments and 21 historical markers to demonstrate the ideals of those who settled in Texas, and the Supreme Court found that the monument had a “dual significance, partaking of both religion and government.” In the Oklahmoa case, however, the Ten Commandments monument stands alone next to the State Capitol.
The court also refused to dismiss American Atheists’ claim that defendants violated the Equal Protection Clause through the placement of a religious monument that allegedly discriminates against non-believers, while imposing a moratorium on the placement of additional monuments, which allegedly favors the current Ten Commandments monument. One of the plaintiffs – an individual member of American Atheists – was dismissed for lack of standing. The Oklahoma federal court’s decision on defendants’ motion to dismiss can be accessed here and Plaintiffs’ Complaint here.
Reportedly, a Satanic group plans to seek permission to place a Satanist statue on the lawn of the Oklahoma State Capitol (read more here).