The news: According to the Associated Press, the ongoing debate over ornamenting government property with religious monuments has taken a decidedly hilarious turn.
A New York-based organization named Satanic Temple has offered to donate a physical "homage to the historic/literary Satan" to the Oklahoma State Legislature, which currently sports a sculpture of the 10 commandments outside of its capitol building. The satanic organization promises that its contribution will be, "in good taste and consistent with community standards," lack the spelling errors of its predecessor, and not just be the word "Slayer" carved into an arm-shaped tombstone that's making the sign of the horns.
The background: The Oklahoma state legislature's 10 Commandments monument is a direct replica of a 1961 monument that sits on the grounds of Austin's Texas State Capitol, and which was the subject of a 2005 Supreme Court case. Lawyer Thomas Van Orden alleged that the Texan sculpture represented an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. In a split decision (aren't they all?), the Supreme Court rejected Van Orden's claim, and decided that, rather than promoting Judeo-Christian traditions, the Texan monument merely commemorates ideals inherent to the state's identity. You know, good ol' generalizable ideals like, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and the ironic, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images."
While the Texas ruling would seem to put Oklahoma's monument in fine standing, a concurrent Supreme Court decision declared three 10 commandments displays in Kentucky to be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as unlike the Texas sculpture, they had been erected for the primary purpose of advancing religion.
That ruling has opened the door for the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge Oklahoma's monument, which it did in August. One of the plaintiffs in the case, a Baptist Minister named Bruce Prescott, stated that, "To argue that the monument merely commemorates something historical rather than religious is a slap in the face to many Oklahomans, like myself, who incorporate the 10 commandments into our religious practice."
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma state legislature has shown its impartiality with regard to religion by attempting to ban Midwestern Sharia law, excluding a Muslim leader from a law enforcement seminar, and last month, considering establishing a chapel in the capitol building in order to commemorate the state's Judeo-Christian heritage.
The takeaway: As much as the Satanic Temple's antics may have caused the corners of Anton LaVey's lips to curl beneath his silly little mustache, it's highly unlikely that the civic-minded organization will be able to erect a pentagram monument or an "interactive display for children" in Oklahoma. However, the proposal does point to the monumental waste of time that sculptures such as the one at the Oklahoma State Capitol represent. It would be nice if legislators were honest and respectful enough to keep such monuments off of the state steps. If nothing else, it would save our public spaces from truly going to hell.