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What the hell?

Conservatives in Oklahoma may have shot themselves in the foot when campaigning to retain a statue of the Ten Commandments placed near Capitol grounds last year.

The Republican legislature in the state - Oklahoma is known as the buckle of the Bible Belt - authorised a privately funded monument in 2009. It was erected despite criticism from legal experts, who believed that it broke rules on the separation of church and state. The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit seeking its removal.

The Oklahoma legislature has taken other steps that many believe blur the line between church and state. The state House speaker has said he wants to build a chapel inside the Capitol to celebrate Oklahoma's Judeo-Christian heritage; several lawmakers have said they want to allow nativity scenes and other religious-themed symbols in public schools.

But the folks at the New York Satanic Temple saw the recent row as something of an opportunity for their own practice. They told the state's Capitol Preservation Commission that they too want to donate a monument and intend to submit a design this month. One idea is to make an interactive display for children.

'We believe that all monuments should be in good taste and consistent with community standards,' said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple, in a letter to state officials. 'Our proposed monument, as an homage to the historic/literary Satan, will certainly abide by these guidelines.'

Brady Henderson, the legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, recognised that if state officials allow one type of religious expression, they must allow alternative forms too - although he argued a better solution would be to allow none at all on state property.

'We would prefer to see Oklahoma's government officials work to faithfully serve our communities and improve the lives of Oklahomans instead of erecting granite monuments to show us all how righteous they are,' he said. 'But if the Ten Commandments, with its overtly Christian message, is allowed to stay at the Capitol, the Satanic Temple's proposed monument cannot be rejected because of its different religious viewpoint.'