The monument is the result of a measure introduced by state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, and passed by the Legislature in 2009 allowing for a privately paid-for monument to be placed on public property outside the Capitol.
Little fanfare accompanied the installation on the north side of the building, with about a dozen non-workers watching, including Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. No speeches or ceremonies accompanied the event.
The monument is identical to other Ten Commandments monuments in other states — including one in Austin, Texas — except for the dedication plaque at its bottom, said the piece’s creator, Gary Mosier of SI Memorials. The side with the commandments faces the Capitol building, while its blank, opposing side faces outward.
Money for the monument was raised by the Ritze family, and the inscription reads, “Presented to the people of Oklahoma by Dr. Mike Ritze and Connie Ritze and children Amity, Heidi and Jamey.”
Ritze was not on hand when the monument was erected.
Other Ten Commandments monuments on public property in Oklahoma, such as one erected at the Haskell County Courthouse, have been ruled unconstitutional.
Betting on backlash
Reynolds said there may be some backlash against the monument being put up, but that any legal challenges against it should have been two years ago when the bill was passed, and that any new legal challenges would prove “frivolous.”
“There’s always backlash,” he said, adding that the measure allowing for the monument contains provisions for private legal representation to defend against legal challenges, so that the state is not out any money.
Reynolds said a monument of the Ten Commandments was chosen “because of the historical significance of the Ten Commandments and the influence of things of that nature on our country.”
He said he was thankful that the monument is finally in place.
“It’s taken a while to get through the process and I’m glad we’ve been able to complete it today,” Reynolds said.
The site at the top of the north stairs next to the building was chosen by the Capitol Preservation Commission, which wants to look at a whole area for several monuments, he said.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said it is too early to say whether the organization will challenge the monument, but that regardless of what was decided on other similar monuments, each case rises and falls on its own merits.
He said saying the monument is purely a historical monument is “disingenuous,” and offensive to those who incorporate the Ten Commandments into their faith as more than a historical document.
The monument essentially sends a message to those who may not incorporate the Ten Commandments into their belief system that they are second-class citizens, according to Kiesel.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” he said. “The state Capitol in Oklahoma is the seat of government. It’s a building that belongs to people of Oklahoma, regardless of faith or even if they have no faith at all.”