A privately funded Ten Commandments memorial planned for the lawn at the state Capitol and approved in May 2009 by the state Legislature should finally become a reality by September, according to the state lawmaker who co-authored the bill.
Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, whose family is paying for the monument, said he anticipates it will be in place on the north lawn of the Capitol by Sept. 1, perhaps even earlier if the weather cooperates. The red granite for the monument is being mined in the hills of the Dakotas this summer, he said. Once that stone is in hand, the Kansas City-based contractor he chose to build and place the monument will go to work.
Ritze said he chose the contractor, whose name he could not recall, after interviewing a handful of finalists. He said he was swayed by the fact that the company had built the grave and monument for former President Ronald Reagan in California, putting the entire structure together in 24 hours.
"They seemed to be the most efficient," Ritze said.
Although the measure authorizing the placement of the monument on the Capitol grounds was passed and drew Gov. Brad Henry's signature more than 13 months ago, the law did not take effect until Nov. 1, 2009. The Capitol Preservation Commission -- which plans and supervises the preservation and restoration of the Capitol's interior and exterior -- met several times to determine a suitable location for the monument, finally deciding on Dec. 15 to place it on the north lawn, adjacent to a monument memorializing the victims of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Ritze was consulted on the memorial's placement and said he finally agreed on the location after consulting with his wife, though at one time he thought the south lawn might be preferable.
"My wife said the north side would be perfect because there are a lot of rallies there, and it's a peaceful setting," he said. "If we had gone with the south side, we would have had to build more sidewalks, and that would have messed with the aesthetics."
The memorial itself will be 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It is designed to be almost identical to a Ten Commandments monument that sits on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin. The only difference between the two will be the wording at the bottom that explains that monument was donated by the Ritze family, he said.
The Texas Monument, and many others like it scattered around the country, was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and Hollywood filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, director of the 1956 Charlton Heston film The Ten Commandments. That monument has been in place since 1961, sitting among dozens of other monuments.
Considering the many steps that had to be taken for the Oklahoma monument to be created, its placement at the Capitol should occur right on schedule, Ritze said, adding that he hoped all along it would be in place within a year of the time the law took effect.
What kind of reception the monument receives remains to be seen. Ritze said most of the feedback he has gotten from people has been positive, and he cited a January Tulsa World Oklahoma Poll that showed 79 percent support for it among respondents.
But opponents of the measure authorizing the monument's creation argued that it likely would draw a court challenge and tie up the resources of the state Attorney General's Office to defend it. Officials at the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma City have expressed disappointment at the passage of HB 1330, which authorized the monument's creation, but they have not indicated whether they intend to challenge the law in court.
Micheal Salem, a Norman lawyer who has argued similar cases for the ACLU in the past, has said until the monument is in place, there would be nothing for the organization to challenge.
Salem was the original plaintiffs' attorney in a recent case that may bolster the position of opponents of the monument. In that instance, a Stigler resident and the ACLU challenged the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the Haskell County Courthouse. Despite losing at the federal district court level, they prevailed in a unanimous 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that reversed the earlier decision, and the monument was removed earlier this year.
But Ritze believes the state Capitol monument has much more in common with the monument at the Texas Capitol and another one on public property in Pleasant Grove City, Utah, claiming his legislation was patterned after those displays -- both of which have survived legal challenges that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
He didn't sound worried about the prospect of a court challenge.
"Obviously, there will be naysayers like the ACLU -- the American Communist Lovers Union, uh, the American Civil Liberties Union -- who will probably object to it," he said. "But it's identical to what's passed a Supreme Court challenge."
Share this article: