The Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission is awaiting one more submission before deciding when its next meeting will be, according to a letter sent from the secretary of state’s office to a man who says he wants to erect on the Capitol grounds a privately funded monument to the Hindu monkey god Lord Hanuman.
Rajan Zed, president of the Reno, Nev.-based Universal Society of Hinduism, is asking to create the statue at no expense to the state. According to a press release from Zed, he wrote to Secretary of State Mark Martin, “If permitted, we plan to make it big and weather-proof. Lord Hanuman is greatly revered and worshipped in Hinduism.”
The issue flared after the Legislature passed Act 1231 in 2015, which said, “The Secretary of State shall permit and arrange for the placement on the State Capitol grounds of a suitable monument commemorating the Ten Commandments.”
The act states that the Ten Commandments form a moral basis for United States and Arkansas law and that “The Ten Commandments represent a philosophy of government held by many of the founders of this nation and by many Arkansans and other Americans today, that God has ordained civil government and has delegated limited authority to civil government.” It later states, “The placement of the monument under this section shall not be construed to mean that the state of Arkansas favors any particular religion or denomination over others.”
Since then, other religious groups have argued that they should have a monument as well. The Satanic Temple, a New York-based group, has said it wants to erect a statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed idol.
Decisions regarding State Capitol monuments are made by the commission, which is independent and chaired by Secretary of State Mark Martin. Kelly Boyd, Martin’s chief deputy, wrote Zed Jan. 4 that the commission is awaiting one more submission before determining when it will next meet. Martin’s spokesman, Chris Powell, said the commission does not have regularly scheduled meetings but instead meets at the call of the chair or at the request of several members. No regular meetings are scheduled at this time.
Powell said the commission considers a number of factors, such as the sponsoring organization’s ability to fund its proposal, the monument’s aesthetics and structural integrity, and maintenance and upkeep requirements. He said monuments “generally take a long time from concept to construction.” An example is the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial, opened in 2014, which took decades to complete from the time the idea was hatched.
The Ten Commandments monument, created through legislation, has not advanced past the first step with the commission.
“This thing’s a long process,” he said. “Even if they’ve been passed by the Legislature, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to pop up next month. We don’t have an estimated target date for that or any of these others at this time.”
The monuments, Powell said, are “here forever. They’re here for everybody, and it’s not a theme park.”
Powell said that several of these recent requests have included submissions from people using pseudonyms or anonymous post office boxes as an address.