Written by Don Byrd
Government officials in Arkansas have worked for three years to erect a monument to the Ten Commandments at the State Capitol. The journey began in 2015, when the Arkansas legislature passed a law, enacted by the Governor, requiring the Secretary of State to arrange for the placement of a privately funded Ten Commandments monument. In 2017, after a funding campaign led by a state legislator, a monument was installed, but a vandal destroyed the display the next day. In April of this year, a new monument was put in place, and now the inevitable court battles have begun.
The ACLU has filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the monument on behalf of four plaintiffs who claim the display amounts to the government’s speech, despite being privately funded, is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the state, and carries with it an impermissible religious purpose.
Here are a few items from the complaint:
79. … Senator Jason Rapert – the primary sponsor of the legislation – repeatedly and publicly has articulated the clear religious purpose behind the legislation and for erecting a Ten Commandments Monument.
80. Beyond the prime sponsor’s statements setting forth the endorsement of religious purpose, the purported historical rationale for the Ten Commandments Monument Display Act and the monument it compels is a sham.
82. Viewing the context surrounding both the Act and the resulting Ten Commandments Monument makes it likely that they will be perceived by adherents of the majority religious denominations as an endorsement of their beliefs, and by nonadherents as a disapproval of their individual religious choices.
83. Plaintiffs, for example, are atheists and agnostics. Thus, they disagree with the explicit directives contained in the commandments that the State of Arkansas required to be included in the monument – “I AM the LORD thy God” and “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” – because these decrees are inconsistent with their sincerely held beliefs.
For more on this issue, see a 2005 column by the BJC’s Holly Hollman on Ten Commandments monuments following important Supreme Court decisions on the topic. Also, see the BJC’s resource page on religious displays.