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Oklahoma has become ground zero for religious expression battles

POSTED: October 12, 2015 11:09 a.m.
Matthew Brown/

As crews quietly removed a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Oklahoma state capitol grounds last week, another skirmish over religious expression resurfaced.

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As crews quietly removed a monument of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol last week, another skirmish over religious expression resurfaced.

Oklahoma State Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he believes schools can have prayers before athletic events without violating the state constitution or federal constitution prohibitions against state-sponsored religion.

"Pruitt gave his opinion in response to a legislator's complaint about a school prayer ban," The Oklahoman reported. "Pruitt called the ban by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association 'constitutionally overbroad on its face.'"

Pruitt issued his opinion the day after a contested Ten Commandments monument was removed from state property in accordance with a Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in June that found the monument is "a religious symbol and must be removed because it violates the state's constitutional ban on using public property to benefit a religion."

The 4,800-pound monument was removed by workers overnight Monday and transported to the offices of a private conservative think tank, The Washington Post reported.

It could return to the capitol grounds if voters were to approve a constitutional amendment allowing such a monument to be erected on state property. That's the hope of State Rep. Mike Ritze, a Broken Arrow Republican, whose family paid about $10,000 to have the 6-foot granite monument constructed, according to The Associated Press.

But Pruitt, who defended the monument's placement on state property, suggested the OSSAA is misinterpreting state and U.S. Supreme Court rulings on school prayer, according to The Oklahoman.

"The attorney general said the recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling does not apply to 'student-led, student-initiated and student-controlled prayer," Pruitt wrote. "The key to having a prayer before a sporting event is a policy that allows opening remarks by a student selected to speak through an evenhanded process, according to the opinion. If the student then decides to include a prayer in his opening remarks, it is legal and cannot be prohibited."
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