A two-ton granite monument commemorating the Ten Commandments that has sparked controversy since its installation on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds was stealthily removed under cover of darkness on Monday to be transported to a private conservative think tank for storage.
A week after officials with the Capitol Preservation Commission voted 7-1 to ax the Ten Commandments display from public property, a contractor the state hired began removing the monument shortly after 10:30 p.m.
The dramatic conclusion comes after the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in June that the display violates a state constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”
The state is paying the contractor about $4,700 to remove the monument and take it to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ offices a few blocks away, Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus said.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol had increased security around the monument earlier Monday, and barriers were erected to keep visitors from getting close to it. Estus said the decision to remove the monument under the cover of darkness was made to avoid disturbing workers at the Capitol and to keep protesters from demonstrating while heavy equipment was being used to detach the two-ton monument from its base.
“We wanted it to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and doing it at night gave us the best opportunity to do that,” Estus said. “The Highway Patrol was also very concerned that having it in the middle of the day could lead to having demonstrations of some kind.”
Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.
“Frankly, I’m glad we finally got the governor and attorney general to agree to let the monument be moved to private property, which is where I believe it’s most appropriate,” Prescott said Monday. “I’m not opposed to the Ten Commandments. The first sermon I ever preached was on the Ten Commandments. I’m just opposed to it being on public property.”
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