In the dark of night and under tight security, workers in Oklahoma began work to move a 4,800-pound monument of the Ten Commandments from the Capitol grounds.
Installed in 2012, the monument has provoked arguments between those who see it as a violation of the separation of church and state and those who see the commandments as an essential moral forerunner of the rule of law.
The Monday night move followed a June ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court that the monument violates a state constitutional provision that prohibits the use of public property for religious purposes.
The removal began about 10:15 p.m.
The monument was paid for with private funds and its placement was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009. The single slab of granite stands 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide and is engraved with the Ten Commandments given to Moses in the Old Testament.
After the tablet was erected on public property, groups including civil libertarians, a satanic church in New York, those backing animal rights and even a satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster requested equal space to showcase their beliefs in protest.
The original monument was smashed into pieces last year when a motorist drove a car across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A 29-year-old man who was arrested the next day was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment, and formal charges were never filed. A new monument was erected in January 2015.
This is what the monument originally looked like on the Capitol grounds.
Under the court order, the monument had to be moved by Monday, said John Estus, a spokesman for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services. It took about three months to reach this point because several boards had to sign off on the move and “the gears of government move slowly,” he said.
The monument had been under 24 hour security for months, Estus said. When officials heard rumors of possible demonstrations, they decided to move the tablet at night.
“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.”
Under court order, the Ten Commandments are removed.
The monument was transported to a private conservative think tank, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs offices, several blocks away.
The monument's new home on private property.
The commandments are now more visible from the road than they were on the Capitol grounds, said Michael Carnuccio, president of the group.
“We decided to act because for 22 years we have been helping to solve problems for the state and this is another one,” Carnuccio said.