States map 2015 for blog Written by Don Byrd

Last year, the Arkansas legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law, a misguided bill authorizing the display of a privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol. I wrote at the time that such a display is a bad idea, even if it might be legal, because it undermines fundamental principles of religious liberty for all.

Now state officials are facing a new controversy that has emerged in response to the law. Other groups are demanding their monuments also be prominently displayed. Subcommittees of the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission are evaluating applications, while Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin claims that because of the law, the Commission has no discretion to reject the Ten Commandments law.

Associated Press reports:

The state Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission appointed two subcommittees to review the Ten Commandments monument along with proposals for a satanic statue and a brick “wall of separation” from an atheist group. The commission is also reviewing a proposed monument honoring gold star families.

“The Legislature made the law that the Ten Commandments go on the grounds. So ultimately the commission only has the authority to actually make sure that it’s consistent with the aesthetics and the construction aspects and stuff like that is actually being complied with,” Martin told reporters after the meeting. “So as far as saying, ‘No, it can’t be,’ we don’t have the authority to do that.”

After the dust settles on this controversy, the Arkansas Capitol grounds may become a complex landscape of diverse religious, non-religious, and even anti-religious monuments. Even more likely, it could become the subject of litigation from all sides – those that oppose the accepted monuments and those that defend the rejected monuments, all because the legislature insisted on using government property to promote the Ten Commandments. 

Whether or not the monument passes constitutional review, wouldn’t it be more appropriate, simpler, less expensive to the taxpayer, more democratic, more respectful of America’s commitment to religious liberty, for government to stay out of the business of sending religious messages.