LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin said Tuesday a state panel doesn’t have the authority to reject placing a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol, while three other proposed displays would still need legislative approval
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.
Martin, who chairs the commission, said the panel’s role is limited on the Ten Commandments display since lawmakers approved a measure last year requiring the privately funded monument on the Capitol grounds.
“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.”
He also noted that, under state law, the other three proposals would still need legislative approval to be placed near the Capitol even if they are backed by the 10-member commission.
The Ten Commandments monument would weigh 6,000 pounds (2,720 kilograms) and stand more than 6 feet (1.83 meters) 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.
The Saline Atheist and Skeptic Society has proposed a brick “Wall of Separation” that would be erected between the two displays.
Opponents have urged the panel to reject the Ten Commandments or any other religious monument, saying it would violate the U.S. Constitution.
“Absolutely they have the ability to reject the monument, otherwise there would be no need for this process whatsoever,” said Holly Dickson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas.
One subcommittee reviewing the Ten Commandments and Satan monuments will meet in October, while another subcommittee reviewing the wall and gold star proposals will meet in November. The commission has not said when it will take a final vote on the proposals.
Martin’s office said Tuesday it has received 280 phone calls about the monuments through a hotline it set up last month. Of those, 150 were against the Satanic monument and 45 were for the Ten Commandments display. Thirty-eight were opposed to allowing any religious monument, 28 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.
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