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Oklahoma County judge postpones ruling on Ten Commandments monument lawsuit, orders briefing

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OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma County judge Friday postponed deciding whether to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol and ordered attorneys to submit new legal arguments on constitutional issues that may determine the outcome of the case.

District Judge Thomas Prince ruled that there were technical problems with a motion to dismiss the case filed on behalf of the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, which was sued in August by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma on behalf of the Rev. Bruce Prescott of Norman and others who allege the monument's location on the Capitol grounds is unconstitutional.

"You need to clean up your motion," Prince told Assistant Solicitor General Cara Rodriguez of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office.

The judge then instructed attorneys for both sides to address five constitutional issues he said had not been adequately addressed in earlier legal filings. They include whether Oklahoma's Constitution is substantially equivalent to the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution that prohibits passing legislation that endorses a specific religion.

"I want them fleshed out," Prince said. Prince rescheduled the hearing for Sept. 12.

ACLU attorneys said the judge had focused the case on issues that will be crucial if the case is appealed, which they said is likely.

"Things got clarified today," said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

Aaron Cooper, director of public affairs for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said the office will comply with the judge's request.

"It's important to note that courts throughout the nation have upheld as constitutional Ten Commandments monuments using the same text and design as the one at the Oklahoma Capitol," Cooper said.

The monument was erected in November 2012 after Republican Rep. Mike Ritze and his family paid nearly $10,000 to build and place the 6-foot-tall granite monument. It was authorized by legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2009 and signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat.

But the lawsuit alleges the monument violates the state Constitution's prohibition against the use of public property to support "any sect, church, denomination or system of religion."

Courts have ruled against many similar monuments, saying they could imply the government is endorsing religion. In 2009, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a similar Ten Commandments monument erected on the Haskell County Courthouse lawn in Stigler was unconstitutional because its primary effect is to endorse religion.

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