OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - In their zeal to tout their faith in the publicsquare, conservatives in Oklahoma may have unwittingly opened the doorto a wide range of religious groups, including Satanists who are seekingto put their own statue next to a Ten Commandments monument outside theStatehouse.
The Republican-controlled Legislature in this stateknown as the buckle of the Bible Belt authorized the privately fundedTen Commandments monument in 2009, and it was placed on the Capitolgrounds last year despite criticism from legal experts who questionedits constitutionality. The Oklahoma chapter of the American CivilLiberties Union has filed a lawsuit seeking its removal.
But theNew York-based Satanic Temple saw an opportunity. It notified thestate's Capitol Preservation Commission that it wants to donate amonument and plans to submit one of several possible designs this month,said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple.
"We believe thatall monuments should be in good taste and consistent with communitystandards," Greaves wrote in letter to state officials. "Our proposedmonument, as an homage to the historic/literary Satan, will certainlyabide by these guidelines."
Greaves said one potential designinvolves a pentagram, a satanic symbol, while another is meant to be aninteractive display for children. He said he expects the monument, ifapproved by Oklahoma officials, would cost about $20,000.
Republicanstate Rep. Mike Ritze, who spearheaded the push for the TenCommandments monument and whose family helped pay the $10,000 for itsconstruction, declined to comment on the Satanic Temple's effort, butGreaves credited Ritze for opening the door to the group's proposal.
"He'shelping a satanic agenda grow more than any of us possibly could,"Greaves said. "You don't walk around and see too many satanic templesaround, but when you open the door to public spaces for us, that's whenyou're going to see us."
The Oklahoma Legislature has taken othersteps that many believe blur the line that divides church and state. TheHouse speaker said he wants to build a chapel inside the Capitol tocelebrate Oklahoma's "Judeo-Christian heritage." Several lawmakers havesaid they want to allow nativity scenes and other religious-themedsymbols in public schools.
Republican Rep. Bobby Cleveland, whoplans to introduce one such bill next year, said many Christians feelthey are under attack as a result of political correctness. He dismissedthe notion of Satanists erecting a monument at the Capitol.
"I think these Satanists are a different group," Cleveland said. "You put them under the nut category."
BradyHenderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, said if state officialsallow one type of religious expression, they must allow alternativeforms of expression, although he said a better solution might be toallow none at all on state property.
"We would prefer to seeOklahoma's government officials work to faithfully serve our communitiesand improve the lives of Oklahomans instead of erecting granitemonuments to show us all how righteous they are," Henderson said. "Butif the Ten Commandments, with its overtly Christian message, is allowedto stay at the Capitol, the Satanic Temple's proposed monument cannot berejected because of its different religious viewpoint."