MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 12, 2012

LeFlore County may revive plan for monument


Associated Press

— POTEAU (AP) — LeFlore County commissioners are considering reviving a plan to place a Ten Commandments monument on courthouse property, a county official said.

Charlie Horsley said he asked commissioners Nov. 5 to consider the proposal on behalf of former Poteau Mayor Don Barnes, who has pursued the monument for years but has recently had health problems.

Commissioners Lance Smith and Ceb Scott tabled the request because the third commissioner, Derwin Gist, was not at the meeting and Smith wanted to confer with the District Attorney's Office, County Clerk Kelli Ford said.

The request will be brought before the board at a later time, she said.

The county approved Barnes' initial request for the monument in April 2009, but scrapped it when a federal appeals court ruled two months later that a similar monument at neighboring Haskell County's courthouse in Stigler was a government endorsement of religion.

Officials there moved the monument to the lawn of the adjacent Haskell County Museum.

Horsley said supporters of the LeFlore County monument wanted to revive their plan at least partly because they believe that the Haskell County monument has remained on county property without objection.

Haskell County Assessor Roger Ballard told the Tulsa World that records indicate that the Stigler land is owned by American Legion Post 22, not the county.

"Everybody over there has been OK (with the new location) just 80 feet away," Horsley said. "Everybody's just been hollering to get it on our courthouse."

The LeFlore County monument's initial approval gained national attention in the wake of a legal battle between the American Civil Liberties Union and Haskell County, which had installed its monument in 2004.

At the height of the attention, Barnes and the Poteau Chamber of Commerce raised enough money to buy a $15,000 monument, according to Horsley and Tulsa World archives.

After the plan's rejection, the monument of two stone tablets was dedicated in January 2010 at Community State Bank in Poteau.

The bank later removed it at the request of the Federal Reserve Bank, which said it violated banking regulations, Community State Bank President Larry Spradley said.

It was then erected near a Braum's restaurant on a lot the bank deeded to Poteau's Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary Unit 63, Horsley said.

If commissioners approve the latest request, Horsley said he would seek to move the monument to the courthouse lawn or buy another with donations. Spradley said his bank likely would offer such a donation to keep the existing monument from sustaining damage during a second move.

"LeFlore County is the Ten Commandments capital," Horsley said. "We have a Ten Commandments sign in every town in LeFlore County."

He said the effort is influenced by American history, not religion. County courthouses are the perfect setting for the Ten Commandments because the commandments influenced American laws, he added.

"We do believe that the founding fathers used God's law to help prepare some of the laws we have today," he said, pointing to commandments not to steal, murder or bear false witness. "That's all part of our laws. It's all part of us today."

Horsley, commander of Poteau's Disabled American Veterans unit, said the unit is not directly involved in the effort.