MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

June 8, 2009

Court: Okla. 10 Commandments display is religious

DENVER (AP) — A federal appeals court in Denver ruled Monday that a Ten Commandments monument outside the Haskell County, Okla., courthouse endorses religion based on public comments made by county commissioners after it was installed.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the monument, which is part of a historical display, "has the primary effect of endorsing religion" when taken in context with the small community of Stigler, Okla., where it sits.

They sent the case back to Muskogee, Okla.-based U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White so he could issue a new ruling consistent with their ruling. In August 2006, White rejected arguments that the monument promotes Christianity at the expense of other religions.

"Whoever was the judge in this, I feel sorry for him on Judgment Day," said Haskell County Commissioner Mitch Worsham, who represents the where the county courthouse and monument are located. "We're not going to take it down."

Haskell County's attorneys can ask all the judges on the appellate court to review the panel's decision, or appeal the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Worshom said they are considering an appeal.

The privately funded stone monument was erected in 2004. It was proposed by a construction worker who is also a part-time minister.

The court noted that commissioners knew of the monument's religious nature when they approved of it and that they supported and defended its installation.

The panel noted that at least two of the three commissioners were present at the monument's unveiling on Nov. 7, 2004. One commissioner, who wasn't quoted by name in the panel's ruling, said after it was installed: "That's what we're trying to live by, that right there.... The good Lord died for me...."

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