News & Blog

Atheists File Federal Lawsuit to Remove Christian Monument at OK State Capitol

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday Jan 13, 2014

Text of the lawsuit is available here.

Oklahoma City, OK—American Atheists filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against members of the Oklahoma State Capitol Preservation Commission for placing a 2,000-pound Ten Commandments monument at the north entrance of the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City. The monument was placed in 2012 following the passage of a 2009 bipartisan legislative measure.

“I want to be clear about this: We have a religious monument, placed on government property, by government mandate,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “That is an explicit violation of First Amendment protections of separation of religion and government. As though that isn’t going far enough, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed a law requiring that the monument endorse one specific religion, a clear violation of Fourteenth Amendment equal protection. There is now a law, on the books of Oklahoma, respecting the establishment of Christianity, which is grossly unconstitutional. The legislature has broken the law, plain and simple, and we are suing to right this wrong.”

The Ten Commandments monument has received extensive media attention in recent weeks. In August, 2013 the ACLU filed suit in state court, and in the past month, several other groups, including the New York-based Satanic Temple, have filed proposals for the placement of their own religious monuments alongside the Christian monument. The state-level lawsuit does not address the constitutional violations as the American Atheists federal suit does.As a result of the two additional monument proposals, the Oklahoma State Capitol Preservation Commission voted unanimously on December 19 to put a moratorium on additional monuments while the state lawsuit is pending, in effect refusing equal access to other religious groups and further demonstrating the Fourteenth Amendment violation inherent in this case.

“If this monument were on privately owned land—say, in front of a church—there would be no legal conflict,” said Public Relations Director Dave Muscato. “But by placing this monument, or any religious monuments, on government land, we have government endorsement, which is explicitly unconstitutional. I can’t imagine Oklahoma lawmakers didn’t anticipate a lawsuit and that’s exactly what they’re getting.”

The lawsuit announcement comes just months ahead of American Atheists’ 40th National Convention on Easter weekend in Salt Lake City. The convention will feature such speakers such as NFL star Chris Kluwe, Survivor®: Philippines grand prizewinner Denise Stapley, Grammy-nominated Spin Doctors bass player Mark White, Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Maryam Namazie of the Council of Ex-Muslims, popular bloggers PZ Myers and Greta Christina, and American Atheists President David Silverman. The convention will also feature a costume party, live music, stand-up comedy, an art show and silent auction, national and local exhibitors, and childcare options for attending families. The convention takes place the weekend of April 17-20, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that defends civil rights for atheists, freethinkers, and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of religion and government; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy. American Atheists was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.