Capitol grounds commission approves Ten Commandments monument, ACLU plans lawsuit

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 1,299 views 

The State Capitol Arts and Ground Commission on Thursday (May 11) unanimously approved a proposal to place a Ten Commandments monument on the west side of the State Capitol grounds, setting up a legal showdown on the constitutionality of religious monuments on public property.

In a brief meeting held at the State Capitol, Kelly Boyd, chief deputy with Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office, said the Ten Commandments monument is already in storage and ready to be installed once state officials receive funds from the American History & Heritage Foundation (AHHF) to complete the controversial religious shrine.

“Ladies and Gentleman, it passes,” Boyd said following a quick voice vote after he gave a presentation on the location of the monument. “All we have to do now is determine what happens next.”

According to Boyd, Secretary of State office officials will now meet with the monument sponsor, the AHHF, to determine the cost of the monument, delivery and setup expenses, and other outlays associated with installing the monument’s foundation. Once those costs are calculated, Boyd said, then AHHF would be required to pay 10% of the cost of construction and installation into a fund used to maintain state monuments.

Travis Story, AHHF’s general counsel, said the 6,000-pound monument is 44 inches wide and 78 inches tall and a replica of one erected in Texas and other states, the most recent being Missouri. At a previous meeting, Story said the monument has been completed and its $12,000 cost funded, while Nabholz Construction has volunteered to provide labor and materials for the pad.

“It is an identical duplicate of the one in (Texas),” Storey told Commission panel members. “Literally, the only change is the dedication at the bottom of the (monument).”

Notwithstanding the weather, Boyd said once AHHF’s submits a check for the construction and installation of the Ten Commandment monument and other associated costs, excavation for the monument site on the Capitol grounds could begin by June 10. He said installation of the tribute to the 10 biblical principles on idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, coveting and other religious tenets should take about a week.

Today, there are 23 permanent memorials on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds, along with the Ten Commandment and three other proposed future sites that are under consideration by the Capitol grounds committee.

Kelly Boyd, chief deputy with Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office, discusses the plans for installing a 10 Commandments monument on capitol grounds in Little Rock.

In the recent legislation session, lawmakers passed a bill that states that the Commission cannot consider the construction of a monument on the State Capitol grounds or the removal of a monument without legislative authorization from the General Assembly. That legislation could likely thwart tentative site locations that have already been assigned to the Satanic Temple and Saline Atheist and Skeptic Society, which were brought before a subcommittee of the State Capitol Commission largely in response to the Ten Commandments monument.

In January, a review subcommittee of the Commission assigned a potential spot for the Satanic Temple’s Baphomet statue near the Third Street apartments rented by legislators. The Baphomet statue was submitted by the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple in August 2016 is eight feet, six inches high and features a winged figure with a goat head and a human body accompanied by two children. It weighs nearly 3,000 pounds and, like the 10 Commandments monument, is already constructed but costs about $100,000 to produce. Likewise, a submission by the Saline Atheist and Skeptic Society, has been assigned a “wall of separation” standing between the 10 Commandments, the Baphomet statue and the Capitol.

Boyd told the State Capitol grounds panel that Act 274, sponsored by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, immediately halts consideration of any new proposals that do not have a legislative sponsor. To date, the Satanic Temple and Saline County Atheist groups have been unable to find Arkansas lawmakers to sponsor their applications.

“Once they get the legislature or if they get the legislature to pass the act directing us to go through this process, we will pick them back up,” Boyd said of Act 274. “This is a good bill for people proposing a monument to us for just for what happened. You can come in here and spend a lot of money on engineering and architects and the whole nine yards and get something ready, but if the legislature never sponsors and passes your bill, you’ve wasted your money.”

Holly Dickson, staff attorney for the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said while the legislature’s decision to slow the process in not major concern, the approval of the Ten Commandment monument is not legally tenable.

Dickson said from the time Hammer and Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, originally filed legislation in March 2015 to locate a Ten Commandments monument on State Capitol grounds, the ACLU has asserted that such legislation is putting Christian believers above all other religious and non-believing groups.

“From the time this bill was filed, we have said this bill is going to favor one group of believers over all other groups of believers and non-believers. It is violation of our rights to religious liberty when the government take sides on questions of faith,” Dickson told Talk Business & Politics.

When asked if the ACLU planned to file a lawsuit for the courts to consider the constitutionality of faith-based monuments on state property, grounds, Dickson replied, “Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes.”

“We have been very open from the outset that if they put this monument up, we will sue,” Dickson added.

The Commission also gave the go ahead for the widely-supported Gold Star memorial to move forward. Act 284, enacted into law on Feb. 28, authorizes the Commission to place a granite memorial on State Capitol grounds to honor the “Gold Star” families who lost loved ones in active duty military service.

On Jan. 27, the Little Rock chapter of the Marine Corps League and the Arkansas Run for The Fallen submitted a preliminary application request for the site of the Gold Star monument that was approved by the Capitol grounds subcommittee. It would place the Gold Star Families Memorial Plaza between the parking lot and staircases behind the Arkansas dome.

Design and schematics submitted to the subcommittee show the monument would be similar to other Gold Star markers across the U.S. dedicated to families that have lost a loved one in service to the country through the nation’s Armed Forces. The key feature of the monument is a black marble or granite wall with a cutout of a saluting soldier with a plaque nearby explaining the memorial.

During the recently ended legislative session, Act 281 sponsor Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, had the entire support of the 35 members in the Senate and a large contingent in the House. Rep. Trevor Drown, R-Dover, a former enlisted officer in the U.S. Army’s 20th Special Forces Group, was the primary House sponsor of the legislation.

At today’s meeting, Paul Garrett, a retired Marine officer and co-chair of the Gold Star memorial committee, said his group is raising the $500,000 to $750,000 needed to install the granite monument on Capitol grounds within the next year.