Law & Principles
Trent England | October 7, 2015
Blaine Amendment, Oklahoma Supreme Court threaten more than monuments
The Oklahoma Constitution does not ban religious ideas or symbols from public spaces. Neither does the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This is all the more obvious because so many such ideas are intertwined in our history as well as our concepts of the rule of law and liberty.
The recent ruling of the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordering removal of a granite monument from the state Capitol grounds misreads one provision of the Oklahoma Constitution. Article II, section 5, is a “Blaine Amendment,” designed to discriminate against Catholics (and in favor of quasi-Protestant public schools). One might expect justices to narrowly interpret a legal provision with such a shameful pedigree. Just a plain reading makes clear, however, that the provision is only about government actions done to benefit a particular “sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.” Statements, actions, even monuments that simply recognize religious ideas and their importance are not even within the subject matter covered by Oklahoma’s Blaine Amendment.
Perhaps the best illustration of the absurdity of the Court’s ruling is that it would seem to render illegal the public display of the Oklahoma Constitution’s own preamble. The Oklahoma Constitution begins with these words: “Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessings of liberty….”
The Court’s decision has, at least, made clear that it is only the people and their elected representatives who can return common sense to our state's Constitution and our judiciary. The legislature and the people of the state can simply repeal the Blaine Amendment. This would protect Oklahomans like the special-needs children who receive Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships, as well as Oklahomans who use Medicaid funds at religious hospitals, from spurious claims that their programs are also barred by the law. It is also time to revisit the way Oklahoma appoints judges and justices to ensure the system is rooted in the people rather than steered behind the scenes by special interests.
In the meantime, Oklahomans are welcome to visit the Ten Commandments monument on the northwest corner of 13th & Lincoln.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.