A 6-foot-tall monument to the Ten Commandments was installed at the state Capitol on Tuesday morning amid a continuing debate on the legality of religious symbols on public property.
FILE — State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, who sponsored the legislation that led to installation of the Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds, speaks in front of it on June 27. That monument was destroyed hours later, but Rapert says a new version has been completed and is ready to be installed.
A small crowd stood near a walkway that connects the Capitol to the Arkansas Supreme Court to watch the monolith be lifted and lowered into place. Etched on the statue's granite face are the Ten Commandments as well as an eye to represent the all-seeing eye of God; an eagle atop a flag; and Stars of David.
Among the observers was Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, who sponsored Act 1231 of 2015, which required the monument be erected somewhere on the Capitol grounds.
"It's always good to see things fulfilled, and I think it's a great day for the people of Arkansas," he said in an interview. Rapert also noted the Ten Commandments monument was paid for by more than $26,000 in private donations.
He pointed to the various monuments on the Capitol lawn, which celebrate firefighters, fallen Confederate soldiers and Vietnam veterans.
"We have many monuments on our Capitol grounds that honor many various different things, but we did not have a monument that gave honor to the historical, moral foundation of law. The Ten Commandments is one of the first written codes of law ever. That's why we chose to build that particular monument."
Soon after the monument was set on its concrete foundation, the Satanic Temple and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said they would act on their repeated promises to sue the state if the monument was erected.
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers also said in a statement that it expected a lawsuit to be filed soon and that legal "precedents nationwide require the removal of the monument."
The Ten Commandments monument quotes the Bible and includes the words: "I AM the LORD thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images. Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
In an interview, Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said she planned to challenge the monument as a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"There is no law in federal, state or local government -- that's standing any more, anyway -- that admonishes Americans to have no other God before one God," she said.
The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The Arkansas Constitution also forbids the state from favoring one religion over another.
It states: "No human authority can, in any case or manner whatsoever, control or interfere with the right of conscience; and no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other."
Sklar rejected Rapert's argument that the monument served a historical purpose rather than a religious one.
"This is to make a statement," Sklar said. "This is to win supporters."
The particular version of the Ten Commandments selected amounts to a religious choice, she added.
"There's the Catholic version. There's the Protestant version. There's the Hebrew version," she said. "The selection of these particular commandments has a special place in the Christian religion in particular, and this wording is from the Protestant sect of the Christian religion."
While the ACLU of Arkansas plans to fight to take down the Ten Commandments, Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple, said his organization planned to take a different tack.
"We're not actually suing to have the Ten Commandments monument taken down," he said. "It's to have our monument put up."
The Satanic Temple wants to erect an 8½-foot-tall bronze statue of Baphomet -- a deity that is part man, part goat -- on the state grounds.
It began the process to seek approval by going before the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission. However, Act 274 of 2017, by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, halted the temple's progress.
The act, which went into effect in February, requires lawmakers to approve proposals to erect new monuments before they can be considered by the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission.
"It doesn't make our exclusion legal, and obviously we are going to sue," Greaves said. "The nature of the complaint is different, and for that reason we stand out on our own."
Rapert said the Baphomet statue was "meant to disrupt what we were doing."
Chris Powell, a spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, said $1,558.70 was donated for maintenance. Powell said a recent replacement of the Little Rock Nine Memorial's base cost $7,500.
Act 1231, which authorized the Ten Commandments monument, allows Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to choose whether her office or the Liberty Legal Institute would defend the state in case of a lawsuit. Rapert said the institute had agreed to do the work for free.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge, declined to comment about what Rutledge might decide.
"We haven't seen a lawsuit, so at this time it would be inappropriate for me to offer comment," he said.
Rapert said the U.S. Supreme Court's building includes references to the Ten Commandments.
"If it's good enough for the United States Supreme Court, it is good enough for the state Capitol of Arkansas," he said.
However, Sklar said there's a difference between historic displays and Arkansas' new installation.
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions in 2005 that pertained to Ten Commandments displays.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court held in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union that Ten Commandments displays needed to be removed from two Kentucky courthouses because they were erected along with other religious passages, and the religious motivations were clear.
But the same day, the court issued a separate 5-4 ruling in Van Orden v. Perry holding that the Texas Capitol could keep its decades-old Ten Commandments monument because it conveyed historic and social meaning, and was merely one of several historical displays.
"Religious monuments have been upheld by the court in much older buildings where the monument has existed for a long time and is part of the historic structure," Sklar said. "Nobody is going to take down the U.S. Supreme Court or the U.S. Capitol, but they have not looked so well on newer monuments that are clearly erected for religious purposes."
While talk of lawsuits dominated the news Tuesday afternoon, the small crowd that gathered in the morning to witness the monument's installation noted its handiwork and design.
Scott Stewart, a senior pastor at the Agape Church in west Little Rock, stopped by on the sunny morning because his church raised donations to fund the monument.
"As opposed to removing something, [Arkansas] is marking a trend in the nation by replacing something," Stewart said as he watched workers wipe dust from the statue's base. The pastor said he liked the look of the stone, though he would have made it more "contemporary" if he designed it himself.
Each line and design was sandblasted into the slab of mahogany granite from Milbank, S.D., said Gary Mosier, sales manager for Wilbert Memorials, based in Parsons, Kan.
The design of the Ten Commandments statue comes from Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film with the same title, Mosier said. DeMille advertised the movie by unveiling granite carvings of the biblical laws across the country.
Mosier's company made a copy of the original carving, which was erected in Texas and carved by hand, he said.
Wilbert Memorials employees Richard Nance and Mark Giltner high-fived after the 2-ton slab descended onto the setting compound without making a mess. Nance shaved the dried mixture off the base as Giltner spritzed rubbing alcohol onto the stone's face.
Giltner estimated that he's installed about 20 other Ten Commandments statues during his career, mostly in Oklahoma.
Nance, still a "greenhorn," wiped his hands on his shirt and admired his work.
"Practice makes perfect, you know what I mean?" he said. "Looks good, though."
Now that the monument has been installed, Rapert said, the American History & Heritage Foundation, of which he is a board member, would turn to helping others place Ten Commandments monuments around the country.
"We're obviously committed to helping people replicate what we've done," he said.
A Section on 06/28/2017
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