Republican lawmaker Sen. Jason Rapert told reporters Wednesday (June 28) he has asked officials to prosecute a Michael Tate Reed to the “fullest extent of the law,” after he ran over the newly erected Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol.
Rapert, sponsor of 2015 legislation to put the Ten Commandments memorial on the Capitol grounds, also said he is prepared to fight and win any lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Society of Free Thinkers, and the Satanic Temple against the state based on separation of church and state.
The Bigelow senator made his comments after Reed was arrested in Little Rock on Wednesday and charged with defacing an object of public interest, criminal trespass and mischief. According to the Little Rock City police report, Reed drove over the religious shrine with his 2016 black Dodge Dart on the Capitols ground just northwest of the State Capitol building.
Reed also posted a live Facebook video of the incident on Wednesday, only 24 hours after the six-foot-tall monument was installed. In the video, Reed says, “Oh my goodness. Freedom!” before accelerating from 0 to more than 20 miles an hour into the monument.
It’s not his first time to deface a monument. Reed was also arrested in 2014 for allegedly destroying a Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City.
“It is a terrible situation, but it does not negate the fact that the law must be fulfilled and I hope that the prosecutor holds (Reed) accountable because that is the only way to bring justice in this situation,” Rapert told reporters.
AN ‘ACT OF VIOLENCE’
In a 30-minute press conference held at the Old Supreme Court room at the Arkansas State Capitol, Rapert condemned the destruction of the monument and downplayed media reports saying Reed was unstable, adding that if those accounts were true the Van Buren man should not be free.
“I am also reading in the reports that man actually had made threats against (former) President Barack Obama and had done other things that were very unsettling. I also see that he is also diagnosed with a mental disorder – I don’t know,” Rapert said. “I do question that when a person plans out what he is going to do and they actually get in a vehicle, live video themselves doing it, and it appears he knew exactly what he was doing at the time.”
Rapert continued: “I am just very grateful today that he did not hurt anyone here, or hurt officers of the Capitol Police force because frankly this guy was in a state of mind that he very well could have hurt somebody.”
He added that if Reed is mentally unstable, he hopes Pulaski County authorities would get him help, noting that he had supported legislation in the recent 2017 session to make more money available for treating persons with disabilities and mental illnesses.
“But, I also know, according to my conversations with (Pulaski County) Prosecutor Larry Jegley, when he gets the file that they will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” said the Republican senator, calling the monument destruction an “act of violence.”
Rapert then offered a sermonette, saying Reed’s action represented a larger problem in the American discourse, pushing unstable and angry people to commit acts of violence because of disagreements on political issues.
“That’s the same hatred and same motivation that causes someone to put on a mask and take a bat and go to a college campus and attack somebody who is standing there exercising their free speech rights. It’s a problem in America,” Rapert said. “It’s the same hatred that motivates a man to go to Virginia to a ballpark and asks where there are Democrats and Republicans playing on the field and he identifies his targets that he agrees with politically and he opens fire and shoots these people because they simply have a difference politically than he does.”
Rapert said he hopes the destruction of the Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas leads to further actions by Arkansas lawmakers and Congress to tamp down rhetoric on political disagreements.
REPLACING THE MONUMENT
Rapert said the American History & Heritage Foundation has already made plans to re-install a new monument. Construction began nearly three weeks ago on the destroyed monument at a cost of more than $15,000, according to officials with the Secretary of State’s office. Rapert, who sits on the AHHF board, said the foundation received donations from hundreds of people in Arkansas and the U.S. to erect the original Ten Commandments monument. He said he is already getting calls from donors willing to help pay for a new monument. The 6,000-pound monument is 44 inches wide and 78 inches tall, and is a replica of one erected in Texas, Oklahoma and other states.
“I can announce to you today that we’ve already ordered the replacement monument …, and the company is already working to put it together,” Rapert said. “Act 1231 is the law in the state of Arkansas. And this law was attacked by someone, (but) it will be fulfilled and we will raise the funds to make sure it is put back where it should and hopefully to protect it if we have to …”
Under state rules regarding memorials on the Capitol grounds, AHHF was required to pay 10% of the cost of construction and installation into a fund used to maintain state monuments on the grounds. Travis Story, AHHF’s general counsel, said in May the group had $12,000 of costs funded, while Nabholz Construction volunteered to provide labor and materials for the concrete pad.
Chris Powell, spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, said the value of the monument is estimated at $15,587. Rapert said AHHF had raised and spent more than $20,000 for preparation, construction and maintenance of the monument.
“As for reinstalling the monument or any sort of timeline, those steps have not been determined just yet,” Powell said.
LAWSUIT CHALLENGE EXPECTED
Rapert also said he is fully prepared to fight and win any potential lawsuits brought against AHHF and the state of Arkansas by ACLU and other groups that say the Ten Commandments monument constitutes an unlawful establishment of religion by the Arkansas state government. He added that the ACLU and other groups threatening and promising to take the monument down, and some of the local media, should take some blame for “stirring and fomenting” hatred and violence that caused Reed’s actions.
“First of all, the ACLU has a problem going across the country filing frivolous lawsuits just to attack the values and traditions of this country,” Rapert said. “I’ve seen 24-48 hours of threats that they are going to promise to take it down. What culpability do they have to hold their rhetoric down? … You can’t light a fuse and say you are not responsible for the explosion.”
Nearly a month ago, Holly Dickson, staff attorney for the Arkansas ACLU, said approval of the Ten Commandments monument is not legally tenable. Dickson said since Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, and Rapert 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 a violation of our rights to religious liberty when the government takes sides on questions of faith,” Dickson told Talk Business & Politics.
If a lawsuit is filed, Rapert said Act 1231 of 2015 allows for the conservative nonprofit law firm First Liberty Institute to represent the state of Arkansas pro bono if Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge decides to appoint them.
Rapert told reporters that Mosaic law is a part of the moral fabric of America society and judicial system, noting that the Ten Commandments biblical patriarch Moses adorns the door of the U.S. Supreme Court chamber in a position higher than chief justice of the high court.