The First Amendment firebrands at the the Satanic Temple are preparing a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas, alleging religious discrimination in the wake of the erection this week of a monument to the Ten Commandments. The monument is being feted with a dedication ceremony this morning (Benji Hardy is on hand and will have more soon from the scene, including an interview with Lucien Greaves, the Temple’s spokesperson and co-founder). 

In a press release, the group announced that it will file a lawsuit arguing that the rejection of their own proposed monument amounts to religious discrimination, with the state showing unconstitutional preference for one religion over another in promoting a Biblical monument over the Satanic Temple’s monument. The lawsuit will be merged with expected suits filed by other groups arguing that the Ten Commandments monument violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.


The Satanic Temple (a non-theistic religion that does not worship a supernatural Satan) has a sense of humor, but they are not a joke. They have been dogged in pursuing legal challenges on First Amendment grounds; they made headway this year, for example, in Missouri challenging anti-abortion laws on religious freedom grounds.

The background, familiar to readers of this blog: Sen. Jason Rapert and other Republican lawmakers pushed a bill through the legislature in 2015 that decreed that a privately funded Ten Commandments monument be placed on the Capitol grounds. ACLU-Arkansas and others called that a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.


The Satanists were inspired by Rapert and decided to seek their own monument. They proposed to install a 10-foot bronze representation of the goat-headed pagan god Baphomet on the Capitol grounds, which they described as a symbol of religious pluralism. The Temple had previously proposed a statue honoring Baphomet in Oklahoma after the state legislature there decreed a similar Commandments monument. The group dropped the effort once the Oklahoma Supreme Court said that the Ten Commandments monument was unconstitutional, and has stated that they would withdraw their request in Arkansas if the government backed off of promoting its preferred religious tradition on public grounds. In addition to the Satanic Temple, Hindus, atheists, and vegans also asked about monuments in the wake of the legislature’s action for a Ten Commandments monument.

The Satanic Temple got their monument plan okayed by the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission in January of 2017, but still required approval from the legislature after a public comment process. At the time, the commission said that a public comment meeting would be scheduled after the 2017 legislative session was already over. In any case, legislative approval was…not forthcoming. For whatever complex of reasons, Republicans who rushed to approve the Ten Commandments monuments have been less enthusiastic to back monuments from other traditions, such as goat-head pagan idols. Of course, if lawmakers are privileging their own religious tradition over others, that’s a legal problem.


In fact, as if to prove the Satanic Temple’s point, after the Commission deemed the Temple’s plan sufficient to move forward, Rep. Kim Hammer, one of Rapert’s cosponsors on the Ten Commandments law, successfully pushed a bill to block the Satanic Temple’s proposed monument from even getting to the public comment phase at all. The legislature passed Hammer’s bill into law by overwhelming majorities, halting consideration of new monuments on the Capitol grounds unless they’re first approved by the legislature. Lawmakers weren’t just squeamish about Baphomet, they were so spooked by other religious traditions that they sought to block them from even going through the normal public process of commission meetings and public comment periods without the legislature’s prior approval.

Hammer claimed at the time that the law was simply a procedural adjustment. 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.

Hammer’s law will no doubt be heavily featured in the Satanic Temple’s lawsuit. Also relevant might be any communications by state officials about monument applications. The Satanic Temple also suggested that Rapert’s own preaching — which argues that America was founded as Judeo-Christian nation and offers the Bible as a “plan for American renewal” — highlights lawmakers’ clear religious preference in enacting legislation.

Greaves lays it on thick in the press release:


Rapert is obviously a mindless tool for theocratic interests originating outside of Arkansas, as his bill utilized the exact language used in failed efforts to maintain a Ten Commandments monument at the capitol in Oklahoma — legal language that the simple senator was unable to comprehend.

And more from Greaves:

Further destroying the state’s already untenably difficult defense of the monument, Rapert has taken to local pulpits declaring the United States a ‘Christian Nation,’ openly discussing his agenda to bring his religion alone to the public square, to the exclusion of all others. Arkansas’s state constitution holds that ‘no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other.’ Rapert’s misconstrual of law goes beyond mere incompetence, his manipulation of truth beyond mere misinformation, his abuse of his office beyond mere misconduct. I would posit that his bald efforts to undermine, ignore, and utterly diminish the constitution he swore to uphold, abusing his office to illegally impose his religious viewpoint, is tantamount to treason. Rapert has so loudly declared his unconstitutional agenda so often that he’s destroyed any credible legal defense of his efforts. In the future, the well-financed, well-organized theocrats who use easily-manipulated fools like Rapert to advance their hostile coup against democratic pluralism and religious liberty, would be well advised to find useful idiots who are somewhat less idiotic.

The dedication today is for a re-installation of the Ten Commandments monument. The first iteration of the monument was installed last June but destroyed within the next 24 hours when it was rammed by a man in a vehicle.