American Atheists v. Thompson
On November 1, 2009, the Oklahom Legislature passed the "Ten Commandments Monument Display Act" and directed the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission to "permit and arrange for the placement on the State Capitol grounds of a suitable monument displaying the Ten Commandments." The Monument Display Act required the Commission to assist private entities in selecting a location on Capitol grounds for the monument and to arrange a time to install the monument. The construction of the monument, however, was not funded by the state.
On November 15, 2012, the Ten Commandments Display was erected on Capitol grounds. The monument was donated by Dr. Mike Ritze and his family.
The initial placement of the monument made headlines because at least three spelling errors were in the original and had to be corrected.
Following an investigation by American Atheists staff and attorneys into procedures for placing other monuments on Capitol grounds, and having determined that no such procedure exists, American Atheists filed suit against the the State Capitol Preservation Commission, including Trait Thompson, in his official capacity as Chair of the Commission. The full filing is available here.
Joining American Atheists in the suit were two members of American Atheists who are residents of the State of Oklahoma: Aimee Breeze and William Poire.
In the suit, American Atheists asked the Court to declare the placement of the monument to be an unconstitutional violation of the Constitution under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well as the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. We asked the court to require the removal of the Ten Commandments Monument and permanently enjoin the State of Oklahoma from enforcing the Monument Display Act.
In addition to the lawsuit filed by American Atheists, the Satanic Temple (based in New York), a Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group, and members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have applied to place monuments on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, following precedent set by American Atheists in our case against the County of Bradford in Florida in which a settlement allowed the placement of a monument to the secular heritage of our nation on courthouse grounds.
Motion to Dismiss
On March 18, 2014, the State of Oklahoma filed a Motion to Dismiss American Atheists' lawsuit.
This motion was denied on May 22, 2014. The Court did, however, find that Mr. Poire, one of American Atheists co-plaintiffs, does lack standing. However, the case will be permitted to move forward because Ms. Breeze has standing.
The Court's ruling on the Motion to Dismiss is available here.
In addition to the federal lawsuit filed by American Atheists, the ACLU of Oklahoma challenged the monument in state court. In September 2014, a judge dismissed their lawsuit. The ACLU appealed this decision and, on appeal, won in a 7-2 ruling before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in June 2015.
This ruling required the monument to be removed and was upheld in Federal Court.
The monument was removed on October 5, 2015.