When Arkansas lawmakers passed a bill this year calling for the creation of a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol building in Little Rock, they clarified in the legislation that the move shouldn't be "construed to mean that the State of Arkansas favors any particular religion or denomination over others."
Construction hasn't yet begun on the tribute to Old Testament scripture -- but already, a number of religious and secular groups have come forward to put the lawmakers' claim to the test, demanding that they also be allowed to erect their own statues on the capitol grounds.
The latest request, submitted last month by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group that advocates for the separation of church and state, calls upon Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and Arkansas Secretary of State, Mark Martin (R), to build a "no gods" monument that represents the "views of citizens who reject the biblical or religious perspective."
In a letter, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor tell Hutchison and Martin that "most freethinkers find the Ten Commandments to epitomize the childishness, the vindictiveness, the sexism, the inflexibility and the inadequacies of the bible as a book of morals." They then request that they be allowed to fund their own statue at the capitol, which would display the following text:
MAY REASON PREVAIL
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
Freedom depends on freethinkers
KEEP STATE AND CHURCH SEPARATE
Presented (add date) to the State of Arkansas on behalf of the membership of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in honor of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The FFRF's proposal joins a list of similar requests from other groups, none of which have been approved. In August, the Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism received a rejection notice after asking for permission to build a tribute to the Hindu god Hanuman, a monkey-faced deity revered for his strength and skill as a linguist and grammarian.
The society’s president, Rajan Zed, told The Associated Press that he had apparently submitted his request to the wrong board, and must instead apply through the Arkansas General Assembly or submit an application to the Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission.
The FFRF appears to have copied the commission in its letter, which can be read in full below.
The Satanic Temple, a group known for taking a more in-your-face approach to the issue of separation of church and state, is also reportedly considering staking out some real estate on the Arkansas capitol grounds. The group nearly succeeded in placing a massive bronze statue of Baphomet, a satyr-like horned idol, outside the Oklahoma state capitol earlier this year -- near a massive stone tablet of the Ten Commandments.
But the group was forced to move the monument to Detroit after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that such religious displays, including the monument to the Ten Commandments, were unconstitutional.
The Satanic Temple seems to think a similar statue would look good in Little Rock, but has reportedly not taken more formal steps to request a space for it. Perhaps they're waiting to see if the Arkansas law, which was modeled after the one passed in Oklahoma, will meet the same fate.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also made an unsuccessful attempt this summer to make a statement on the capitol grounds with a massive banner that would have read, "Give peas a chance. Go Vegan." An official with the Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission told AP that the display would have violated state policies. But PETA has since announced plans to revisit their proposal and offer a new design.
Hutchinson has previously spoken out about the wave of monument petitions, saying he doesn't "want just every group putting a statue on the capitol grounds." He suggested that the legislative debate over the Ten Commandments bill meant that it was a more serious undertaking.
"We want it to be exclusive; we want it to be reasoned," he said. "We want it to be reflective."
There are currently 15 statues present on the Capitol grounds, including ones commemorating Confederate soldiers, Confederate women, firefighters and the Little Rock Nine, the group of black students who helped push school desegregation by enrolling in the previously all-white Little Rock Central High in 1957.
FFRF's full letter is below: