LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Hundreds of people have reached out to Arkansas officials about proposals to erect Ten Commandments and Satan monuments at the state Capitol, with many objecting to the idea of a demon deity near the building and others arguing that neither religious statue belongs on public property.
Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office last week released more than 200 voicemails it received through a hotline set up to receive public comments about the proposed monuments. The voicemails, along with a handful of emails and letters, were released to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The messages show people have strong feelings for and against the statues, which the state Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission will begin discussing at a hearing Tuesday. Lawmakers passed legislation last year requiring the state allow a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol, and the Satanic Temple has submitted its own proposal. Another group, the Saline Atheist and Skeptic Society, last week proposed a third monument: a brick “Wall of Separation” that would be erected between the two displays.
“Are you guys crazy?” Rick Pace, a truck driver from Garfield, said in one message. “You do not let these bunch of phonies place a monument to Satan. This country is built on the principles of the Lord.”
Katherine Goodwin, a retired teacher in Little Rock, urged the 10-member panel to reject any religious monument on the Capitol grounds, saying: “We do not live in a theocracy. We live in a democracy.”
Martin’s office said it received at least 231 phone calls about the monuments. Of those, 111 were against the Satanic monument and 36 were for the Ten Commandments display. Thirty-five were opposed to allowing any religious monument, 26 were opposed to the Ten Commandments monument and 12 supported the Satanic display. The numbers may overlap if callers voiced an opinion on both monuments. The callers weren’t required to leave their names, but the AP reached out to some of those who left messages.
The Ten Commandments monument would weigh 6,000 pounds and stand more than 6 feet tall, according to an application filed with Martin’s office last month. The American History and Heritage Foundation said it raised more than $25,000 for the granite monument and its installation.
The Satanic Temple has asked the commission to approve its proposed statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed, angel-winged androgynous creature accompanied by two children smiling at it. It has asked that it be placed next to or directly in front of the Ten Commandments monument.
“I wouldn’t even want to live in a state where we have a Satanic image or statue on our Capitol grounds,” Debbie Scantling, a retiree from Greenwood, said in one message. Another caller backed the Ten Commandments display and urged Martin to fight the Satan monument because “he’s the one causing all the trouble in the world.”
The hotline also fielded plenty of calls from people who urged the state to either reject or accept both monuments, arguing that accepting only one would open the door to lawsuits over religious discrimination.
“If you do put that travesty up there, I hope you also put the statue of Baphomet up there,” John Eberhard, a retired real estate broker from Mountain Home, said.
Another caller identified herself as a Christian and said she didn’t think either monument belonged on the Capitol grounds.
“I feel very strongly that we’ll probably end up in major court battles for some time, which will cost the taxpayers a lot of money,” she said.
Supporters of the Ten Commandments monument say its design was modeled after a display at the Texas state Capitol. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Texas display in 2005 while striking down Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky courthouses. The court said the key to whether a display is constitutional hinges on whether there is a religious purpose behind it.
In a letter she wrote to Martin last month, Betty Wishard of Little Rock said the Baphomet statue should be placed directly behind the Ten Commandments monument, which would need a new plaque quoting a Bible verse.
The verse, Matthew 4:10, begins: “Get thee behind me Satan.”
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