LITTLE ROCK - The Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office has received applications this month from two groups seeking to place very different displays on state Capitol grounds.
In an application dated Aug. 8, the American History and Heritage Foundation asked for approval to place a granite monument engraved with the Ten Commandments somewhere on the Capitol grounds, preferably on the south side of the Capitol building.
In an application dated Aug 13, The Satanic Temple asked for approval to place a statue of Baphomet, “a goat-headed, angel-winged, androgynous creature” on the Capitol grounds, preferably within 20 feet to the right or left of the proposed Ten Commandments monument or within 1 foot “directly in front of the proposed Ten Commandments monument.”
The American History and Heritage Foundation was formed to carry out the Ten Commandments project, which originated with legislation approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson last year.
Act 1231 of 2015 requires the state to allow a Ten Commandments monument to be placed on state Capitol grounds at private expense. Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, who sponsored the legislation, created a GoFundMe account that has collected over $26,000 for the project.
The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Mass., says on its website its mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
In 2014, The Satanic Temple applied for permission to place a statue of Baphomet on the grounds of Oklahoma’s state Capitol, where a Ten Commandments monument had been placed in 2012 following the passage of legislation similar to Rapert’s.
Last June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument violated a provision in that state’s constitution prohibiting the use of public property to support any religious denomination. The monument was moved to the property of a conservative think tank, and The Satanic Temple withdrew its application.
Rapert said Friday that The Satanic Temple has the right to submit its application, but he said he considers the application “frivolous” and “a waste of everyone’s time.” He said the group’s suggestion that the statue be placed within 1 foot directly in front of the proposed Ten Commandments monument shows that it is seeking to “disrupt” the monument.
“These people are not serious. They’re just wanting to call attention to themselves,” he said.
Lucien Greaves, co-founder of and spokesman for The Satanic Temple, said the group would be satisfied with either placing its statue near the Ten Commandments monument or seeing neither display go up.
“The outcome that we’re trying to avoid is that one religious viewpoint appears to be getting preferential treatment or having government endorsement on the state (Capitol) property,” he said.
Greaves said Rapert is claiming the Ten Commandments is a historical rather than a religious document, an argument he called an “insult” to Christianity. He said supporter’s of Oklahoma’s monument made similar arguments, but that state’s Supreme Court rejected them.
Rapert said the Oklahoma court’s ruling was based on a provision in that state’s constitution and has no bearing on Arkansas. He noted that several state and federal courts have upheld Ten Commandments monuments on public property.
“The Mosaic Code is one of the first written codes of law which lays the framework and foundation of the fact that we even began to use written codes of law,” he said.
In its application, The Satanic Temple quoted from Article 2, Section 24 of the Arkansas Constitution, which states that “no man can, of right, be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship; or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No human authority can, in any case or manner whatsoever, control or interfere with the right of conscience; and no preference shall be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other.”
As of Friday, the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission had not announced a date for a meeting to consider the applications, according to Chris Powell, spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin.