I am the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, seeking to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Jim Huff, executive secretary of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is also a plaintiff.
Last year, I filed a complaint with Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, about the monument. What follows is a revised version of the letter I sent to Kiesel.
I have been to the Oklahoma State Capitol and have discovered that it is virtually impossible to use the stairs on the northeast corner of the building without being forced to view the highly offensive Ten Commandments monument that was recently erected on the Capitol grounds.
I frequently visit the state Capitol to discuss pending legislation for a variety of causes.
For example, I am on the board for Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE). I visited the Capitol at least three times this year to address state legislators about legislation effecting science education.
I also am a member of the impact committee for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches (OCC), which monitors legislation that would affect five areas of concern to conference churches – criminal justice, education, environment, immigration and poverty.
I participated in the OCC annual day at the legislature and visited the Capitol more than three times this year to address state legislators about legislation affecting these concerns.
I am also a member of the Sierra Club. I participated in their day at the legislature this year and on at least two occasions addressed state legislators about legislation that would have an impact on the environment.
I am also a member of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice and participated in a rally to oppose the personhood amendment and spoke to state legislators about this legislation on at least two occasions this year.
All of the above activities were outside responsibilities regarding legislation that are part of my job as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.
In regard to my official duties with Mainstream Baptists and the New Baptist Covenant movement, I visited the state Capitol on three occasions to discuss statewide opposition to payday lending among Baptists involved with the New Baptist Covenant movement and the possibility that legislation be sponsored that would put a cap on the amount of interest that payday lenders can charge in this state.
As these examples indicate, I have been a frequent visitor to the Oklahoma State Capitol, which is why I believe action must be taken to address constitutional concerns about the Ten Commandments monument that has been erected on the Capitol grounds.
That monument is an affront to every person who affirms that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing religion.
I am a Baptist minister. I am not opposed to the Ten Commandments. In fact, I exhort people to obey them.
I am not opposed to monuments of the Ten Commandments that are placed on private property and/or on the grounds of religious institutions. I am opposed to erecting Ten Commandments monuments on public property and particularly on the grounds of the state Capitol where people of different faiths and of no faith go to exercise their rights as citizens.
Baptists in the revolutionary era were instrumental in supporting the passage of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Those Baptists, my spiritual ancestors, were determined to ensure that every citizen had “liberty of conscience” – that is, the freedom to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.
That is why they were adamant in denying support for the Constitution until it separated church and state and protected the equal rights of citizenship for all religious minorities.
That is a legacy of which Mainstream Baptists are most proud in our religious tradition, and that is why we find the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol so offensive.
In effect, it sends a signal that certain faith traditions are endorsed and sanctioned by the government while those who adhere to other faith traditions are second-class citizens in their own society.
Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and president of the Norman, Okla., chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He blogs at Mainstream Baptists, where a version of this article first appeared.
Bruce Prescott, now retired, served as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists from 1998-2014.