Satan, or an 8-foot representation of the hooved foot, goat-headed deity known as Baphomet, traveled to Little Rock from Massachusetts on Thursday (Aug. 16) to help a throng of First Amendment supporters protest a Ten Commandments monument on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds.
Before a crowd of dozens of supporters and Christian counter protesters within shouting distance, organizers with the Satanic Temple and other allied groups, including Cranford, N.J.-based American Atheists, and the Arkansas chapter of the American Humanists Association, gathered as the bronzed Baphomet statue was rolled out on the back of trailer just in front of the Capitol steps.
In a speech where he made fun of protesters affiliated with the white nationalist Knights Party members counter protesting across the street from the Capitol grounds, Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves drew several rounds of applause when he officially introduced the bronzed, winged statue.
“Good people of Arkansas and supporters of religious liberty, I present to you Baphomet — the symbol of pluralism, legal equality, tolerance, free inquiry, freedom of conscience and reconciliation,” Greaves said as the cheering throng snapped pictures and cheered loudly to drown out the protesters across the street.
“We did not bring Baphomet here in hopes of replacing the Ten Commandments monument,” Greaves continued. “What we are asking for is that the public square, these Capitol grounds, remain in an area in which free speech, religious liberty and equality under the law be respected by the holders of public office who swore to uphold those values.”
In late June, a 6,000-pound Ten Commandments replica monument was installed with concrete protectors on the southwest side of the State Capitol grounds. The original religious memorial was smashed and destroyed only 24 hours after it was installed last summer. A Van Buren man ran over the first monument and was later arrested by Little Rock police and charged with defacing an object of public interest, criminal trespass and mischief.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, who spearheaded legislative efforts to install the monument on Capitol grounds despite the threat of lawsuits over violations of the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty, issued a statement ahead of the protests on Thursday. Rapert, who is also an ordained preacher, said the legislature carried out the will of the Arkansas voters in enacting the 2015 law that allowed placement of the monument between the State Capitol and the Arkansas Supreme Court building.
In early 2017, the Satanic Temple submitted an application to a State Capitol grounds subcommittee to put a Baphomet statute with two admiring children at his side on the northeast corner of the State Capitol grounds. That proposal, however, was blocked by an emergency-session bill that requires all monuments to have legislative sponsorship, which no lawmaker has yet taken up.
“The extremist group that has targeted our state again today came and spoke against the monument during our public meetings and sought for a sponsor of a bill to erect their profane statue — they never had any takers,” Rapert said. “The process was open and they failed to convince any of the 135 legislators to sponsor a bill to carry out their idea.”
The Arkansas senator added: “No matter what these extremists may claim, it will be a very cold day in hell before an offensive statue will be forced upon us to be permanently erected on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.”
At Thursday’s rally, Greaves and the festive crowd that traveled to Little Rock seemed pleased to bring attention to the rising controversy on religious liberty, and concerns that such displays as the Ten Commandments represent the government’s endorsement of religion, and therefore violate the First Amendment.
Nick Fish, national director of American Atheists, said he attended the event in Little Rock as a show of support for religious freedom. On his Twitter feed, Fish highlighted the Little Rock rally through hashtag #SatanWentDowntoArkansas
“American Atheists stands with any religious group — Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and yes, Satanist — that is committed to equality under the law and true religious freedom,” Fish told Talk Business & Politics. “The Satanic Temple’s rally today made it clear that people of conscience and moral character in Arkansas aren’t going to sit idly by while politicians use religion as a weapon to divide us and wield the power of government to elevate one religion over all others.”
Meanwhile, the Salem, Mass.-based Satanic Temple was still able to raise more than $25,000 from supporters of the “Bring Baphomet to Arkansas” rally. Greaves told the nonprofit group’s Facebook followers, which includes several loosely based satanic chapter dens across the U.S., that he is now seeking a court order to require the state to install the statue of an androgynous satanic figure on the Capitol grounds.
“This isn’t a rally of secularists versus people of faith, Satanists versus Christians, or outsiders versus Arkansas,” Greaves said ahead of the Little Rock event, requesting donations. “This is a rally for all people who hold sacred the founding Constitutional principles of religious freedom and free expression that have fallen under assault by irresponsible politicians like Senator Rapert. We welcome people of all backgrounds and religious beliefs to stand with us.”