A Ten Commandments monument planned for the lawn of the state Capitol in Oklahoma City has been a reality for the past several months. It's just that it hasn't been put in place yet, says the lawmaker responsible for its creation.
State Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, who co-authored the bill authorizing the creation of the monument and its placement at the Capitol in 2009, said work on the piece was finished several months ago by a Kansas City-based contractor. Since that time, the monument, which was paid for by Ritze's family, has been stored in a warehouse in Kansas City, where it will remain until it is ready to be put in place at the Capitol.
But Ritze doesn't know when that will happen. He said Friends of the Capitol, a tax-exempt corporation devoted to providing private funds to maintain and improve the beauty of the Capitol and its works of art, is soliciting funds to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support the monument, including lighting, paving and the foundation.
"They need $13,000 to complete the project," he said, though he noted part of that total already has been raised.
Once the money has been secured, Ritze said, the Capitol Preservation Commission -- which plans and supervises the preservation and restoration of the Capitol's interior and exterior -- will place the monument on the north lawn, adjacent to a monument memorializing the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
"The monument was completed at the first of the year," he said. "At that time, we were told that it would probably take another year to raise the money and put it in place because they had another project they were working on that already had taken five years."
That timetable is longer than the Sept. 1, 2011, completion date Ritze targeted in an interview with Urban Tulsa Weekly last summer, but the Broken Arrow lawmaker and doctor has learned to be patient when it comes to this project. He said he hasn't actually seen the monument yet, though he is anxious to do so.
"I'd like to make a trip up to Kansas City," he said. "I'd like to have it here. But I've got so many balls in the air, I haven't had the chance to yet."
The granite used for the monument -- 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide -- was mined in the Dakotas, Ritze has said previously, and the piece itself is to be almost identical to a Ten Commandments monument that has been located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin since 1961.
Though House Bill 1330 authorizing the monument's creation and placement at the Capitol was signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, in May 2009, many observers expect the monument to become the target of a lawsuit challenging its legality, as has been the case with other such monuments located on the grounds of public facilities.
Ritze has insisted he isn't worried about that possibility, arguing his legislation authorizing the monument was patterned after the Ten Commandments display in Texas and another in Pleasant Grove City, Utah, both of which have survived legal challenges that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
In any event, a potential court challenge appears to be a long way off. 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 is nothing for the ACLU to challenge, though the organization's lawyers in Oklahoma City did express disappointment at the passage of HB 1330 two years ago.
Salem was the lead attorney for a plaintiff who recently challenged the placement of a Ten Commandments display on the grounds of the Haskell County Courthouse in Stigler. A federal district judge ruled against the plaintiff, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned that ruling, and the display was removed in 2010.
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