The Satanic Temple today delivered a demand letter to state officials threatening litigation if they are denied a public hearing for their proposed eight-and-half-foot-tall bronze statue of the goat-headed pagan god Baphomet on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.
The letter comes in response to a bill passed 91-0 by the House earlier this week, which would halt consideration of new monuments on the Capitol grounds unless they’re first approved by the legislature. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Kim Hammer and Sen. Jason Rapert, appeared to be aimed at putting a stop to the Satanic Temple’s efforts.
It was Rapert who inspired the Satanists and their mission. The backstory is familiar to readers of this blog: Rapert and other Republicans pushed a law in 2015 decreeing the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol Grounds, an apparent violation of the U.S. Constitution. In response, the Satanic Temple requested their own privately funded monument, which they describe as a symbol of religious pluralism. 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.
While the legislature has already approved the planned Ten Commandments monument, lawmakers have been less gung-ho about ideas from other traditions, such as goat-headed pagan gods. (Of course, this is precisely the Satanic Temple’s point: the government seems to be privileging one religion over another, in violation of the law.) In fact, lawmakers are apparently so unhappy about the Temple and its idea for a monument that they are now aiming to block the group from even going through the normal public process of commission meetings and public comment periods. Hammer’s bill 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.
Of course, the Satanic Temple has already begun the approval process with the commission and is set to move to the public comment phase. The Temple argues that even if Hammer’s bill passes and is signed into law, it should only be applied to new monument requests, not halt their monument request that is already in process.
In a press release today, the Satanic Temple stated that its attorney “informed Arkansas officials by letter today that the new monument request standards — if approved by the Governor — cannot halt monument requests already in process, as to do so would be to apply the new standards retroactively, and illegally.”
From the letter:
To be clear, House Bill 1273, even if made effective immediately, can not be applied ex post facto to The Satanic Temple’s monument request, which is already in process. The procedural revision proposed by House Bill 1273 can only be legally applied to any and all monument requests submitted after its passage. The Satanic Temple, having expended significant costs including, but not limited to, travel, lodging, and architectural designs, in pursuance of following pre-existing protocols for private monument donations to the Arkansas State Capitol Grounds, reasonably expect that Arkansas will grant their monument request the public hearing it is due… Retroactive application of proposed Bill 1273 would give rise to numerous legal claims against the State of Arkansas at the expense of the taxpayers.