The Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission, under the leadership of Secretary of State Mark Martin, met briefly today on what are now four proposals for new additions to Capitol grounds monuments.
The meeting lasted long enough to divide review of the four proposals between two subcommittees, which will report later.
A fourth monument emerged today, from Gold Star Families, an organization dedicated to remembering those whose lives were lost in war.
It joins the legislatively approved Ten Commandments Monument, the Satanic Temple’s statute of Baphomet and an atheist’s proposal for a Wall of Separation, to symbolize the constitutional divide between church and state.
UPDATE: The main action at the Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Ground Commission meeting today was to bust members up into two, three-member subcommittees to consider the validity of the four monument proposals on the table, then set the dates to begin the public hearing process to determine whether they’ll ever make it to the grounds.
Chief Deputy Secretary of State Kelly Boyd said today the monument proposals will all have to seek and win legislative approval before the monuments can be installed on the lawn of the Arkansas State Capitol. The Ten Commandments monument has already won the approval of the General Assembly.
CLARIFICATION: However, Secretary of State Mark Martin told the Associated Press that only the three new monuments, not the Ten Commandments, need legislative approval. And he indicated the tribute to the Biblical commandments is a cinch. The grounds commission need only be concerned by where and how, not if, it is placed.
“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.”
Noting that “three of the submissions are a little bit different than one of them,” Boyd said prior to the selection of the subcommittees that the Gold Star, Atheist and Satanic Temple submissions, if selected to move forward by the commission, “still have to have legislative authorization. It will be the Secretary [of State]’s responsibility to present legislation to the General Assembly to move that forward. We’ve got a number of monuments and memorials on the grounds. All have gone through the same process, including the recently completed Arkansas Firefighter’s Memorial.”
Subcommittee 1 will consider the monument proposals submitted by the Gold Star Families and the Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society. That subcommittee will consist of Randall Bynum, Julie Harris and architect Dave Roberts. Their first meeting will be Thursday, Nov. 10 at 10 a.m., at a location to be arranged by the Secretary of State’s Office.
Subcommittee 2 will consider the monument proposals submitted by the American History & Heritage Foundation, Inc — whose “historic monument” to the Biblical Ten Commandments has already been approved by the Arkansas State Legislature — and The Satanic Temple’s statue of Baphomet. That subcommittee will consist of Melonaie Gullnick, Kelly Van Hook, and architect Tony Leraris. Their first meeting will be Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 11 a.m. at a location also to be determined.
Boyd said there will be at least four meetings for each subcommittee before a final decision.
Outside the Old Supreme Court chambers after the meeting, ACLU attorney Holly Dickson said that ACLU-Arkansas has warned about the un-Constitutional nature of the Ten Commandments monument since the bill seeking its approval was first filed. She said that if it is approved or installed, litigation is inevitable.
“It’s a new monument that shows government preferring one brand of religion over another,” Dickson said. “That is contrary to the principles in the law on which our nation was founded. We’ve seen this play out in other areas. You can call something historical all you want, but if it’s brand new, it’s not a historical marker. That’s what I would anticipate that a case would turn on.”
Dickson then introduced reporters to Little Rock attorney Gerry Schulze, who identified himself as a member of the Arkansas Freethinkers. Schulze said he has also represented the American Humanist Association in the past. Schulze said that if either the Ten Commandments Monument or Satanic Temple monument is approved for installation on the Capitol grounds, he will be filing a lawsuit on behalf of many concerned individuals in Arkansas and possibly members of other groups who have consulted with him, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Humanist Association.
“I’m here today to try to encourage the State of Arkansas not to pay me a lot of money,” Schulze said. “If we have to challenge this, it will be a civil rights case, there will be civil rights attorney’s fees that we will attach, and as we’ve seen many times before when legislatures attempt to do things that are clearly unconstitutional, it ends up costing the state a lot of money. So I’m here today to ask the State of Arkansas not to pay me a bunch of money.”