The Murky Saga of Arkansas’ 10 Commandments Monument

The Murky Saga of Arkansas’ 10 Commandments Monument August 2, 2018

If you haven’t heard, The Satanic Temple (TST) is planning an Arkansas Rally in Arkansas on August 16th in protest of Jason Rapert’s 10 commandments monument.

This comes on the heels of the ACLU and Arkansas Secretary of State both trying to prevent TST from joining the lawsuit against the 10 Commandments monument as an intervenor as we’ve reported previously. While all that sorts itself out in the court though, I decided to do some digging into the background of the case and it’s turned up some interesting facts that raise even more interesting questions. These questions largely center on State Senator Jason Rapert’s (R-Conway) justifications for the monument, and how the organizations responsible for the monument function.

The American History & Heritage Foundation, Rapert’s ‘Not a Church’ Non-Profit

Arkansas State Seal made for State Senator Jason Rapert. Image Credit: Wikimedia user Sjrapert, used with permission under CC-BY-SA-3.0

A large part of Rapert’s public defense of the monument has been to try and make a legal distinction between his ardently religious views as a Christian minister, and the purported secular ‘historical’ nature of his non-profit The American History and Heritage Foundation (AHHF). Much of his argument rests on Rapert and his Holy Ghost Ministries, Inc (HGM) being entirely separate from the AHHF. This is where things start to get interesting though.

The AHHF is a registered non-profit in the State of Arkansas according the Secretary of State’s website, as is Holy Ghost Ministries. But non-profits, with very few exceptions, are ordinarily required to file with the federal government (so donors can deduct their contributions on their own income taxes). What’s more, non-profits are required to file one of various versions of what is called a form 990, which is just a basic reporting requirement that tells the government how much money people gave them for the year. That way if someone says (for example) ’I give this nonprofit $100,000’, and the non-profit only reports say $70,000 the IRS knows someone is lying. Pretty basic stuff so far, right?

Here’s the thing though. As near as I’ve been able to ascertain from public record searches of the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search and (a popular non-profit information aggregator) the AHHF has never submitted a form 990, nor do they appear in the IRS Exempt Organization Master list.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything by itself. IRS rules basically say a non-profit has 3 years to comply with 990 requirements and the AHHF was founded in 2015 so it’s entirely possible they filed an extension for 2017 and don’t need to send that form in until October instead of April. Who knows, right? But it’s still odd because the GoFundMe campaign that was used to raise money for the monument raised a lot of money, far more than the actual cost or replacement cost of the monument. So one would think they’d have wanted to report those contributions.

What About the Holy Ghost Ministries?

Despite being a church, which don’t have to report much of anything, Holy Ghost Ministries does show up in exempt organization searches and is on the IRS charities master list. HGM has also dutifully filed it’s required form 990s every year since at least 2011. Those forms give us a public record of how much money HGM has reported as income going back to 2007.

That’s where things get interesting

The funny thing is, since AHHF doesn’t have any records but HGM does it raises some serious questions about who exactly paid for Arkansas’ 10 Commandments monument. Rapert has been very careful with his words, saying at the monument’s rededication early this year:

“The Replacement Monument is being installed and gifted to the State of Arkansas by the American History & Heritage Foundation, which has fully funded the project with private donations.”

The thing about saying it that way is that AHHF isn’t taking credit for paying for how the monument was funded ‘with private donations’ the AHHF just facilitated raising those funds. So what happens to the excess funds? Where does that money go?

Well no one rightly knows for sure because the AHHF hasn’t submitted any paperwork to the IRS as far as anyone can tell. But one thing about the paperwork we do have access to jumps out at me as being rather interesting.

The GoFundMe campaign for the monument was started in February of 2016, so I can’t help but find it rather suspicious that in 2016, after three consecutive years of reporting absolutely no income, that Holy Ghost Ministries, Inc suddenly reported an income of $133,000 dollars.

Now Let’s Be Clear About This

Jason Rapert’s ‘day job’ (such as it is, when he’s not being a Senator) is the Founder & President of Holy Ghost Ministries, Inc, which is an evangelical christian church. He is also, as the State Senator representing Conway, AR, the Lead Sponsor of Act 1231, which codified the establishment of the monument into Arkansas law. On top of that, he’s also the president of the American History & Heritage Foundation. So my question is this:

If the American History & Heritage Foundation is just a “passthrough” fundraising non-profit; and if the resultant funds raised become income for Jason Rapert’s ministry; then is he financially benefiting from his own legislation? Because Section 24 of the Arkansas state senate rules says:

24.05 Use of Influence and Knowledge for Personal Gain A Senator, personally or through others, shall not knowingly: (a) Use the influence or knowledge of his or her office to obtain personal or family financial gain other than that provided by law for the performance of the Senator’s legislative duties. (b) Acquire a financial interest in any business which the Senator has reason to believe may be directly affected to its economic benefit by action taken by the Senate. (c) Perform an act that adversely affects a business when the Senator or his or her family has a financial interest in a competing business. (d) Use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure or create privileges, advantages, or special treatment for the Senator’s benefit or the benefit of the Senator’s family unless the enactment or administration of law benefits the public generally. (e) Use public funds or the time or counsel of public employees, for his or her personal or family gain. (f) Use his or her official position by any means to influence a State agency for personal or family gain by the use of express or implied threat of legislative reprisal. 

So, if his business (Holy Ghost Ministries) financially benefited from monument that was established by his bill that that should at least raise the question of whether he committed any ethics rules violations.

But even MORE interesting is …

Under AR Code § 5-52-101 an AR state official cannot “Solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept any benefit as compensation or consideration for having as a public servant given a decision, opinion, recommendation, or vote favorable to another person“.

Therefore, if he benefited or was compensated in any way from soliciting donations for the monument his bill established then he may well have broken Arkansas law.

And What About the Lawsuits?

When Jason Rapert rededicated the monument in May he said:

“The sole reason that we donated this monument to the state of Arkansas is because the 10 commandments are an important component to the laws and the legal system of the United States of America, and of the state of Arkansas.”

I’ve already written about the extent to which the 10 commandments play a role in the history of jurisprudence, so I won’t rehash that right now. But to me at least, if it is in fact the case that Rapert used his 10 commandments monument act (and the monument itself) as a fundraising initiative for his Holy Ghost Ministries (which the publicly available paperwork certainly seems to suggest), then I would think at least some kind of investigation should be warranted by both the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas State Police. That’s up to them though.

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  • Zasz

    “…the 10 commandments are an important component to the laws and the legal system of the United States of America…”
    Either he doesnt know what hes talking about or he is really this dumb.

    1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. No religious freedom then. Everyone must be a christian?
    2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Like a giant cross, jesus statues, mary statues or a TEN COMMANDMENT MONUMENT?
    3.. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain. Blaspemy law, no freedom of speech but thought crime is ok?
    4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. On which day are we supposed to shut down the entire nation including hospitals, the police and firefighters?
    5. Honor thy father and thy mother. Even the drunk abusive ones?
    6. Thou shalt not kill. Obsiously that doesnt include the concept of making bills that make performing a certain medical procedure punishable by death. It also contradicts certain bible verses that say “… must be put to death”.
    7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. But voting for a serial adulter to be president is ok? Does that apply to singles too?
    8. Thou shalt not steal. Ok, go and get rid of tax exception status for churches who hardly do charity and never have to prove that they do charity at all and keep using the money to hide pedophiles. And megachurches… enough said.
    9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Saying its ok to put up a ten commendment display on public property when the law and constitution say its wrong violates that very rule, doesnt it?
    10. Thou shalt not covet. Im not allowed to envy anyone for anything? Thought crime again? Whos gonna check? Whos gonna punish me for it? I get freedom of speech but not freedom of thought? Oh, right. Misusing the name of god already got rid of free speech.

    So how exactly is any of that “important to the law or the US”? Unless the US changed into a theocracy recently unnoticed by every non-christian, news agency and the US government, I dont see how anyone can be so stupid to think that any country could have use for these dumb rules.

  • This whole thing is so fishy, Aquaman just showed up to ask if he could catch a ride.

  • DingoJack

    “The soul reason that we donated this monument to the state of Arkansas is because the 10 commandments are an important component to the laws and the legal system of the United States of America, and of the state of Arkansas.”
    Or ‘the sole reason’ even!

  • C_Alan_Nault

    There are 613 commandments in the old testament.

    The list you posted IS a list of commandments and they DO number 10. But they are NOT the ones the Bible names the “ten commandments”. You are listing the ones from Exodus 20. The ones the Bible says are the ten commandments are from Exodus 34:14-28.

    1 Thou shalt worship no other god.
    2 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
    3 The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.
    4 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day rest.
    5 Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks.
    6 Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord God.
    7 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
    8 Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left until the morning.
    9 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
    10 Thou shalt not seeth a kid in his mother’s milk.

    Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

    Any 10 commandments monument that does not have the ones I listed has the wrong commandments on it… except for 1,2, and 4.

    Why don’t they put up a monument with all 613 commandments on it?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “6. Thou shalt not kill.”

    That’s a mistranslation. It should be “thou shall not murder”.

  • Jim Jones

    They can’t even remember these 10.

  • Jim Jones

    The first amendment is a rejection of the first commandment.

  • Zasz

    But the same part of the bible says “…must be puth to death”. Obviously a mistranslation aswell 😛

  • I feel like which 10 “laws” they put on the thing is a bit of a distraction from the overall principle that religious law doesn’t inform or supersede civil, common, or statutory law in a pluralistic society. I get what you’re saying but to me it’s a bit like arguing about whether some leaves on one tree make sense while standing in the forest.

  • Averant

    Murder is okay, so long as it’s state-sanctioned, apparently…

  • C_Alan_Nault

    According to the definition of murder, yes.

    Murder is a legal term & is defined as:

    Definition of murder
    the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

    Because of how the word murder is defined, a legal abortion is not murder, a state sanctioned execution is not murder, killing someone in self defense is not murder, killing an enemy soldier in war time is not murder & so on.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    The fact that almost none of the ten commandments listed on the monuments are part of the laws of the land demonstrates that most of the listed commandments are ignored.

    The ones that ARE law ( Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness ( slander & libel) were made law because they are good laws, not because they are allegedly commandments from a god.