TULSA, Okla. – A group of pastors fired up a crowd of more than 300 people during a rally around a monument engraved with the Ten Commandments on the Haskell County Courthouse lawn.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn spoke Saturday at the gathering in favor of the monument, which a recent American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit says is a sign of the government favoring one religion over another.
But Coburn and others who were vocal at the rally contend that the statements listed in the Ten Commandments are guidelines to a moral, law-abiding society regardless of religious beliefs.
"I wish this was in every courthouse on the lawn," said Coburn, R-Okla. "We need more of this, not less."
Jim Green, the Stigler resident who is the plaintiff in the ACLU case, was contacted by telephone and declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation.
The suit is the first of its kind in Oklahoma since a July ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that Ten Commandments displays on government property are not inherently unconstitutional.
The eight-by-three-foot granite slab contains the Ten Commandments on one side and the text of the Mayflower Compact on the reverse. It stands just to the side of a sidewalk leading up to the front steps of the courthouse.
Mike Bush, the Stigler pastor who was instrumental in raising money to construct the display, said in the last two weeks about 2,835 signatures have been collected in a petition supporting the monument.
"My heart is thankful to see so many people coming out," Bush said. "All our laws are based on the 10 laws up here on our courthouse lawn."
Tim Turner, pastor of a Eufaula church, told the crowd that the problem isn't in Stigler, where there is apparently overwhelming support for the Ten Commandments at the courthouse. The problem is in Washington, D.C., where politicians and judges make separation of church and state decisions for the nation, he said.
"Today is just a little rally," Turner said. "The real battle is coming."
After the formal speeches, the floor was opened to anybody wishing to share their thoughts.
Wyvonne Bollinger stood up and told the crowd about her son, Doyle Bollinger Jr., who died in Iraq in June of 2003. She said he joined the military to guard America and its values, many of which are expressed on the courthouse monument.
"If we don't believe in the Ten Commandments, we don't believe in anything," Bollinger said. "It's what protects us."
In an interview, Coburn said the Ten Commandments are not strictly a Christian belief system, even though they come from the Bible. He also disagreed with the idea that people who practice a different religion might be intimidated by the Ten Commandments when they enter the Haskell County Courthouse.
"We can either deny our heritage . . . or we can embrace that heritage," Coburn said. "The creators of our Constitution were men of faith."