LITTLE ROCK — A state commission that is reviewing applications for displays at the state Capitol cannot reject a proposed Ten Commandments monument, Secretary of State Mark Martin said Tuesday.
Martin said the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission cannot say no to the proposal submitted by the American History and Heritage Foundation because the state Legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved legislation last year requiring the state to allow a Ten Commandments monument to be placed on Capitol grounds at private expense.
The secretary of state said the commission, which he chairs, will review the application to make sure “the construction aspects and stuff like that is actually being complied with. As far as saying no it can’t be (placed at the Capitol), we don’t have the authority to do that.”
Martin spoke to reporters after the commission met and named two subcommittees to review the Ten Commandments proposal and three other applications: one for a statue of a Satanic figure proposed by The Satanic Temple, one for a “Wall of Separation” between the Ten Commandments monument and the Capitol proposed by the Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society; and one for a monument to Gold Star Families proposed by the Marine Corps League and Arkansas Run for the Fallen.
The proposal by The Satanic Temple is a response to the Ten Commandments proposal. The group has argued that the U.S. and state constitutions prohibit the state from promoting one religious denomination over another, so if the Ten Commandments monument is allowed, other religious displays must be allowed as well.
The proposal by the Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society, which was submitted last week, also is a response to the Ten Commandments proposal. The application seeks approval for an 8-foot-tall brick wall with plaques affixed to it containing quotes from the Founding Fathers and others about the separation of church and state.
Martin said that if the commission were to approve any of the applications other than the one for the Ten Commandments monument, legislative approval would still be needed.
“Any of them will require legislation before they can actually be placed on the grounds,” he said. “The committee’s process here is architectural and administrative in nature — aesthetics and those sort of things. As far as whether it goes on the grounds or not, ultimately that authority will lie with the Legislature.”
Holly Dickson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said the state is certain to face a lawsuit if a Ten Commandments monument is approved for the Capitol.
“It is a new monument that shows government preferring one brand of religion over another, and that is contrary to the principles and the laws upon which our nation was founded,” she said.
Gerry Schulze, a lawyer and a member of the Arkansas Society of Free Thinkers, said that if the Ten Commandments monument is approved he expects to file a suit on behalf of several groups and individuals who oppose it.
“As we’ve seen many times before, when legislatures attempt to do things that are clearly unconstitutional it ends up costing the state a lot of money,” he said. “So I’m here today to ask the state of Arkansas not to pay me a bunch of money.”
Act 1231 of 2015, the legislation requiring the state to allow a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol, was sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow. Rapert said Tuesday the monument will recognize history.
“This is a written code of law that Moses was able to give to his people, and it ended up affecting the entire moral foundation and history of law in the entire world, but it is specifically in American jurisprudence because it is referred to so many times,” he said.
Asked if he thought the proposed Satanic figure or Wall of Separation would have much luck with the Legislature, Rapert said, “I don’t think so.”