Legislative leaders in Oklahoma sought to ease public concern Monday over a plan by a group of satanists to erect a monument at the state Capitol.
Both House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman suggested that such a plan was far from a reality, and members of the committee that would need to approve the monument sounded skeptical. But a constitutional law professor says the state could be on legally questionable ground if it rejects the New York-based Satanic Temple's request to put an homage to Satan near a Ten Commandments monument that's already at the Capitol.
The Associated Press reported Sunday about the Satanic Temple's plans to donate such a memorial. The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission would have to approve such plans.
"That's Oklahoma's house. It's not the Satanic club of New York's house," said Capitol architect Duane Mass, who serves on the commission.
Officials with Satanic Temple suggest that Oklahoma opened the door to other religions when it allowed the Ten Commandments monument, with a sectarian message, to be placed at the Capitol.
"The whole point is that we're a religiously pluralistic society, so if there's going to be one, there will be others, or at least we'll make the effort for such," said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the Satanic Temple. "Or there will be neither. Those are the only real options."
The Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009 authorized the placement of the privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol, and former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill into law. It was placed on the north steps of the building last year, and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued to have it removed.
At Big Truck Tacos, a restaurant about a mile from the Capitol, 26-year-old Matthew Burrell questioned what the satanists had done to deserve a monument.
"Monuments are built in response to something great being done," Burrell said. "What have satanists given to society that actually benefits the city or the state?"
Bingman suggested the idea sounded like a "political stunt," while Shannon spokesman Joe Griffin said the Capitol was not an appropriate place for such a monument.
"Anything displayed at the Capitol should be a representation of the values of Oklahomans and this nation," Griffin said. "The left-hand path philosophies of this organization do not align with the values of Oklahomans nor the ideals this country or its laws are founded upon."
But Joseph Thai, a constitutional law professor at the University of Oklahoma, said the decision to place the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol could put the state in a difficult position.
"The state can disown the Ten Commandments monument erected at the Capitol with private funds as private speech, but then it cannot reject other privately donated religious monuments -- even a satanic one -- on the basis of viewpoint," Thai said.
Or the state could decide to exclude other religious monuments by taking ownership of the Ten Commandments monument as official state speech, but Thai said that could become legally problematic because of the sectarian message on the granite statute.
"The Legislature has put the state between a rock and a hard place, constitutionally speaking," Thai said.