Construction is underway on the foundation of a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol, setting up a possible legal showdown on the constitutionality of religious monuments on public property.
On May 11, the State Capitol Arts and Ground Commission unanimously approved a proposal to place a Ten Commandments monument on the west side of the State Capitol grounds, in between the Arkansas Supreme Court and offices of the State Department of Education.
On Tuesday, construction workers had completed the foundation for the 6,000-pound monument that will be 44 inches wide and 78 inches tall. According to the sponsor of the monument, the American History & Heritage Foundation (AHHF), it is a replica of one erected in Texas and other states.
At last month’s commission meeting, Secretary of State officials said installation of the tribute to the 10 biblical principles on idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, coveting and other religious tenets should take about a week. After the concrete foundation for the religious monument was poured on Tuesday, Secretary of State Office spokesman Chris Powell said he was not certain when the memorial project would be completed.
“The concrete base has to set a bit after it’s poured before they can put up the monument. It’s expected to take a few days,” Powell said.
According to Kelly Boyd, chief deputy of the Secretary of State’s office, AHHF will be required to pay 10% of the cost of construction and installation into a fund used to maintain state monuments. Travis Story, AHHF’s general counsel, has said the monument has been completed and its $12,000 cost funded, while Nabholz Construction has volunteered to provide labor and materials for the pad.
Today, there are 23 permanent memorials on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds, along with the Ten Commandment and three other proposed future sites that are under consideration by the Capitol grounds committee.
In the recent legislation session, lawmakers passed a bill that states that the Commission cannot consider the construction of a monument on the State Capitol grounds or the removal of a monument without legislative authorization from the General Assembly. That legislation could likely thwart tentative site locations that have already been assigned to the Satanic Temple and Saline Atheist and Skeptic Society, which were brought before a subcommittee of the State Capitol Commission largely in response to the Ten Commandments monument.
Holly Dickson, staff attorney for the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said last month approval of the Ten Commandments monument is not legally tenable. Dickson said since Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, and Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, originally filed legislation in March 2015 to locate a Ten Commandments monument on State Capitol grounds, the ACLU has asserted that such legislation is putting Christian believers above all other religious and non-believing groups.
“From the time this bill was filed, we have said this bill is going to favor one group of believers over all other groups of believers and non-believers. It is a violation of our rights to religious liberty when the government takes sides on questions of faith,” Dickson told Talk Business & Politics.
When asked if the ACLU planned to file a lawsuit for the courts to consider the constitutionality of faith-based monuments on state property, grounds, Dickson replied, “Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes.”