The House yesterday passed Rep. Kim Hammer‘s House Bill 1273, which would halt consideration of new monuments on the Capitol grounds unless they’re first approved by the legislature.
The bill appears to be aimed at the Satanic Temple, a religious group that is unpopular among lawmakers at the Capitol. Hammer’s bill, passed unanimously on a 91-0 vote, would prevent the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission from beginning the process for new Capitol monuments without approval from lawmakers; currently, the commission may consider monuments and make recommendations but final approval must come from the legislature. Hammer’s bill is on to the Senate.
The backstory here: A few weeks ago, a 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 (David Koon was on the scene — where protesters arrived with signs like “Sacrilege is not free speech — filed this report). Some members of the General Assembly have been squeamish about installing a eight-and-half-foot-tall bronze representation of the goat-headed pagan god Baphomet on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. Hammer’s bill suggests that they were spooked even by the group going through the normal public process of commission meetings and public comment periods.
The Satanists were inspired by Sen. Jason Rapert and other Republicans who pushed a bill that would allow a privately funded Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds (Hammer was a co-sponsor of Rapert’s bill). The legislature has already approved that monument, which ACLU-Arkansas and others have called a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution. Lawmakers have proved less enthusiastic about ideas for monuments from traditions other than their own.
The First Amendment rabble rousers at the Satanic Temple have argued that if the Ten Commandments monument receives preferred treatment over Baphomet, which they describe as a symbol of religious pluralism, then the government is violating the law and imposing one religious belief over another. (The Temple has stated that they would withdraw their request if the government backed off of promoting its preferred religious tradition on public grounds.)
Hammer presented his bill as a procedural move. Since the legislature had to approve monuments eventually, he argued, why not do that on the front end before groups went through the time and expense of going through the commission process? However, given that the Temple was well aware of the need (and likely impossibility) for legislative approval, it’s probably safe to assume that Hammer and co. were simply displeased with the spectacle of public hearings and processes for a group they find unseemly.
The Satanic Temple’s leadership told the press they plan to communicate with legal counsel to see what avenues they have for continuing the process for Baphomet. They also said that the actions of the legislature keep proving their point.