During a short meeting this morning near the Arkansas State Capitol, a three-member subcommittee of the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission deemed a monument site plan submitted by the Satanic Temple sufficient to move forward to a public comment phase; part of an effort to decide whether the group will be allowed to install a 10-foot bronze representation of the goat-headed pagan god Baphomet on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. A group of around 30 Catholic protesters held signs and prayed outside the building where the meeting was held.
The move to place the Baphomet statue on the Capitol grounds is a centerpiece of the Satanic Temple’s effort to get the state legislature to reconsider the placement of a Ten Commandments monument at the rear of the Capitol. The Ten Commandments monument, which ACLU-Arkansas and others have called a clear violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state, has already been approved by the legislature and the same subcommittee who decided on the Satanic Temple’s site plan today.
Today’s meeting was very to the point, with Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves answering brief questions from the subcommittee, sometimes referring to the rolled set of architectural plans he had brought with him. The plans, which were requested by the committee at the last meeting in Little Rock about the Baphomet statue, depict a 6′ by 6′ concrete pad.
After the three-member subcommittee unanimously approved the site plan, Chief Deputy Secretary of State Kelly Boyd told Greaves that a public comment meeting would be held at a date to be announced later, though Boyd said the meeting wouldn’t be until after the end of the current legislative session. Boyd then reminded Greaves that in order for the Baphomet statue to actually be installed on the grounds, it — like other monuments installed on the grounds in recent years — would need to be approved by the Arkansas State Legislature. Boyd noted that if Greaves doesn’t get the Baphomet statue approved this session, it will be two years before the Satanic Temple will get another chance. The Ten Commandments monument already has Legislative approval. A sometimes contentious public comment meeting on the Ten Commandments monument was held on Dec. 14.
“One of the requirements in the existing law,” Boyd said, “is that you have to have legislative approval of this before we can move forward. We’re in a legislative session right now. We won’t be again for two years. We can’t do it in the fiscal session. With the threshold to have that bill discussed, I would recommend to you that you give consideration to trying to find you a [legislative] sponsor.”
After the meeting, Greaves took brief questions from the press. He said the Baphomet statue is a symbol of religious pluralism, and that if the symbol of one religion is going to be displayed on state property, then all religions must have the opportunity to be displayed as well.
“The government needs to remain neutral in its viewpoint,” he said. “They can’t impose one religious belief over another [or] advertise one tribal affiliation over another. It’s not the place of the government to dictate what is and is not appropriate religious expression.”
Asked whether he believes the Satanic Temple will be able to find a sponsor for the required legislation to get their monument installed, Greaves said: “We can try. That will be difficult. But ultimately I feel that if our monument gets turned down and the Ten Commandments Monument goes up, the Ten Commandments Monument will almost certainly come down because it will be deemed illegal.”
“When it comes down, in spite of being privately donated,” Greaves continued, “it will come down at the taxpayers’ expense. I would hope the people of Arkansas, whatever their religious affiliation, would start questioning whether they really want their government officials fighting these types of futile, anti-Constitutional battles just to advertise their religious belief system when there’s certainly other items of the public good to be addressed.”