We must not allow state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) to frame the lawsuits generated against his placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds as an assault upon Christianity itself — or, as he does when he’s pretending that the monument serves a secular function, an assault upon American “heritage and history.” Nor can we allow Rapert to posture as a defender of the Christian faith in the face of these alleged assaults.
The reality is Rapert attempts to rally the support of the faithful while at the same time reducing what they hold sacred to the status of merely “historical.” Hypocritically, the evangelist minister/senator declares the United States a “Christian nation” from the pulpit, decrying the “myth” of church/state separation, while tacitly acknowledging this legal standard in his artlessly de-Christianized excuses for his Capitol monument crusade.
While the senator’s claim that the Decalogue serves a secular, historical function is surely thought to be a clever legalistic ploy to nullify an Establishment Clause claim against it, the attorney general’s office, on behalf of Secretary of State Mark Martin — who must now defend against Ten Commandment monument-targeted litigation — is clearly clueless that this was the tactic of choice. In response to The Satanic Temple’s discrimination suit against the state for refusing our monument, Martin has argued that Satanism is not a “legitimate religion,” which should lead anybody seeking coherence to ask how religious legitimacy became a question in defense of a monument that is allegedly only meant to celebrate American heritage.
Martin’s response to our lawsuit not only implies a complete ignorance of the legal arguments for and against the exclusive placement of Rapert’s Ten Commandments monument, it also exhibits a complete and total ignorance of constitutional law and a fundamental disregard for basic American values. The government is not in the business of determining whose religion is authentic, or which religious voices are deserving of First Amendment protections. Religious liberty depends upon government viewpoint neutrality. This is what we seek to defend.
The Satanic Temple is conveniently maligned as an aggressor against the Ten Commandments, but the reality is that we are not litigating to have that monument taken down; we’ve merely asked to donate a monument of our own as an homage to pluralism, free expression and religious liberty. Having accepted Rapert’s monument as a private donation, the state of Arkansas thus opened the Capitol to private donations from representatives of any and all religious denominations. To quote from the Arkansas Constitution, “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other.”
While the idea of our Satanic monument residing upon the Capitol grounds is undeniably disturbing to some, we would hope that most of the citizens of Arkansas would be at least equally disturbed that their government has now taken it upon itself to try and act as arbiter of what is or is not an appropriate religious or political viewpoint. Regardless of whether you agree with one’s decision to choose one religious path or another, the United States was predicated upon the freedom to follow one’s own conscience, to reach one’s own spiritual, agnostic or atheistic determinations as one sees fit, without government coercion or interference. This is what religious liberty means, and it is religious liberty that is under assault by Rapert in his Ten Commandments crusade.
From 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 16 on the state Capitol grounds in Little Rock, The Satanic Temple is hosting an interfaith rally, to which we will bring our monument, in an effort to show that we will not be silenced into allowing such flagrant assaults upon our freedoms to pass unopposed. Christian ministers, secular humanists and speakers of widely varying cultural and religious backgrounds have agreed to stand with us in unity, and in defense of the First Amendment freedoms we all hold sacred. As I explained in a press release announcing the event, “This isn’t a rally of secularists versus people of faith, Satanists versus Christians, or outsiders versus Arkansas. This is a rally for all people who hold sacred the founding Constitutional principles of Religious Freedom and Free Expression that have fallen under assault by irresponsible politicians like Senator Rapert. We welcome people of all backgrounds and religious beliefs to stand with us.”
We hope to see you there.
Lucien Greaves is co-founder of The Satanic Temple.