As of last week, despite the efforts of Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert to make installing non-Christian monuments on the Capitol grounds very difficult, The Satanic Temple and a group of atheists were making huge strides.
The Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission had just given the Satanists’ Baphomet statue a green light to have a public hearing. The Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society was about to make a presentation in order to get a public hearing.
If those hearings went well and the projects were approved, the legislature would still have to say yes to the monuments — a tall order to say the least — but at least the Ten Commandments statue that elected officials approved in 2015 would be on the way to having some company. If the legislators said no, there could be a lawsuit, but we weren’t at that point yet.
Looks like Rapert is afraid of the Satanists and atheists getting close because he and State Rep. Kim Hammer recently sponsored another bill, HB 1273, that would declare what’s happening with the Capitol grounds an emergency situation (for the “preservation of the public peace, health, and safety”) and take power away from the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission.
The new bill was passed by the Arkansas House yesterday in a unanimous 91-0 vote (with 9 abstentions), and it says:
A monument shall not be constructed on or removed from the State Capitol grounds unless authorized by an act of the General Assembly.
To put that another way, nothing can go up on the Capitol grounds unless the State House (which is presumably majority-Christian) approves it. Only then could the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission consider it for display.
Rapert and Hammer want to make themselves and their colleagues the primary filter through which all monuments have to pass. They could say no to the Satanists. They could say no to the atheists. They’ve already said yes to Christians.
Will this bill put a stop to the Satanic monument’s path to approval since it’s already underway? It’s unclear. But the Temple’s spokesperson Lucien Greaves told me he has every intention of fighting this legislation if they block his group:
… The Satanic monument we offer will, even without Rapert’s emergency bill, require legislative approval.
The Satanic Temple has three options:
1) We can attempt to find a legislative sponsor (the most difficult option)
2) We can challenge the legitimacy of the Legislature’s say in what does and does not constitute appropriate religious and/or political expression in a public forum
3) We can push for legislation that strengthens boundaries between Church and State with regard to Capitol monuments.
We are not yet sure which option(s) we’ll pursue, but rest assured, we will press forward…
It’s incredible how badly Rapert wants to prevent non-Christians from having access to the State Capitol. He thinks only Jesus followers should be allowed to put up monuments promoting their faith and he’s creating as many obstacles as possible for everybody else.
At what point will the courts say he’s crossed the line?