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May 12, 2009

Ten Commandments bill wins final OK

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A bill to allow a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol breezed to final approval in the state Senate on Monday in the face of declarations it is unconstitutional and will be tested in court.

The measure now goes to Gov. Brad Henry. It passed the Senate 38-8 after getting only two "no" votes in the House the previous week.

Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, argued the bill ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution and amounted to state government establishing a religious preference.

She recalled as a child watching Charlton Heston in the leading role of the 1956 movie, "The Ten Commandments," and always understood "there was a religious connotation to the issue, rather than historic."

She said it "disregards our Christian beliefs...that we're supposed to love our neighbors and have respect" for people of "all faiths.

Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, Senate sponsor, said the bill is patterned after a Texas law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said the monument will represent the historical significance of the Ten Commandments, not religious.

"Certainly it has historic religious connotations as well, but our rule of law is based on the Ten Commandments," he said. "It is the most quoted reference of any other document by our founding fathers during the drafting of our Declaration of Independence."

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent a letter Monday urging Henry to veto the bill.

Lynn said the measure is unconstitutional and "it's begging for a legal challenge."

He said the Supreme Court decision on the Texas law does not mean the Oklahoma law will withstand a legal fight. In the Texas case, he said the monument had been in a monument park for 40 years with 17 other monuments and 21 historical markets.

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