OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Horseback riders from a cowboy church in Texas on Friday delivered a stone tablet engraved with the Ten Commandments to Gov. Mary Fallin and bemoaned the court-ordered removal of a large granite monument from the state Capitol grounds they said represents rejection of God's law.
Eleven riders, led by the Rev. John Riggs of the Texoma Cowboy Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, delivered the tablet to Fallin during an impromptu ceremony on the Capitol's south plaza attended by more than 40 members of Christian churches in Texas and Oklahoma who followed the group's progress during their trek and greeted them with applause.
"We're riding for the law of God today," Riggs said shortly after dismounting his horse. "We fully believe that this country was founded upon the principles of God's word. It breaks our hearts to see where this country is headed and to see the removal of the law of God from our land, from our buildings."
Fallin accepted the stone tablet, measuring about 2-feet long and 1-foot wide, and said she will place it in her office.
"You're certainly standing up for our Christian values and the Ten Commandments, which is very important to the state of Oklahoma," Fallin told the riders.
"We want to let you know that we are here to encourage you and let you know that we stand with you all as well," Riggs said.
"You're good neighbors," Fallin replied.
Earlier this month, a 6-foot tall, privately funded Ten Commandments monument erected on the Capitol grounds in 2012 was removed after the state Supreme Court ruled it violated the state constitution's prohibition on the use of public property to support "any sect, church, denomination or system of religion."
Authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the monument had been challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.
Following the Supreme Court's ruling, the monument was relocated in a late-night operation that received widespread media coverage to the grounds of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a private conservative think tank located a few blocks away from the Capitol.
Several conservative lawmakers have announced plans to introduce legislation to seek a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would remove the prohibition preventing the use of public money or property for religious purposes.
Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, which filed the lawsuit on Prescott's behalf, said citizens have a right to express their religious views.
"We not only respect but often defend the rights of people to do exactly what the cowboy citizens did," Henderson said. The purpose of the lawsuit that challenged the Ten Commandments monument was to prevent the government from taking control of or influencing religious viewpoints, he said.
"It's about who gets to control faith, who gets to speak for God," Henderson said.
Riggs said he followed news reports of the legal controversy and was troubled that the monument was taken down "under nightfall."
"When I saw that it just broke my heart," he said. Members of his church created a facsimile of the monument and mounted up on Tuesday north of the Red River boundary between Texas and Oklahoma to deliver it, Riggs said.
Fallin said she was moved by the group's convictions.
"They cared so much about what was happening in Oklahoma and cared so much about the Ten Commandments and what it represents — the morality of society — that they rode horses all the way to Oklahoma from Texas," the governor said. "You know, sometimes Texas and Oklahoma may have a little competition, but in this thing we stand together."