His name is Baphomet. He's half man, half goat, with a large set of wings. If Satanists get their way, a large monument to the cloven-hoofed icon could be on its way to the grounds of the Arkansas state Capitol.
In a press release Tuesday, The Satanic Temple -- a group better known for subversive political acts than occult animal sacrifice -- announced that it had formally petitioned the Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission for permission to bring Baphomet to Little Rock. There he would stand outside the state Capitol building alongside a number of other statues, including one of the Ten Commandments that will be erected in the near future.
The Satanic Temple explained that its request is a response to legislation passed by Arkansas lawmakers earlier this year, which directed the state to allow the building of a privately funded monument to the Ten Commandments on Capitol grounds.
In the legislation, lawmakers claimed that building the statue would not favor "any particular religion or denomination over others." But The Satanic Temple argues that legislators have set a precedent and must allow other religious monuments under a similar arrangement.
"We have reviewed SB939, which authorized the placement of a 10 Commandments monument at the Arkansas State Capitol, and the Baphomet statue we would like to contribute shall fulfill the same intended purposes," said Malcolm Jarry, co-founder of The Satanic Temple, in Tuesday's statement.
While the Ten Commandments monument is, in the words of Arkansas lawmakers, about honoring the Old Testament text as the "moral foundation of the law," The Satanic Temple said it wants to build a memorial to the "various historical witch hunts," the "persecuted free-thinkers" and the "'heretics' who helped inform American secular jurisprudence."
An inscription on the Baphomet statue would read, "Be it known to all that this statue commemorates the history of law in the United States of America. From the deplorable Satanic Witch Hunts, the cherished doctrines of due process, presumption of innocence and the protection of minorities from the tyranny of mob rule became part of the established foundation of American jurisprudence."
The Satanic Temple has been a regular fixture in the debate over religious displays in the public sphere. The group nearly succeeded in placing a 9-foot, 1.5-ton bronze statue of Baphomet on the Oklahoma state Capitol grounds, next to one of the Ten Commandments, but ended up relocating it to Detroit after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that such placement of religious monuments, Christian or Satanist, on Capitol grounds would be unconstitutional.
Earlier this summer, Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves told KFOR that the group was hoping to transplant that $100,000 statue to Arkansas.
He also explained the thinking behind the particular depiction of Baphomet.
"We decided to go with that because it is a fairly traditional character," he said. "It also offers a lap that visitors can come to sit on, have their picture taken with."
One aspect of the statue is sure to make matters even more controversial: The caduceus at the icon's waist is traditionally meant to represent an erect phallus.
The Satanic Temple isn't the only group eyeing the grounds of the Arkansas state Capitol. Atheists, Hindus and animal rights activists have all expressed interest in building monuments in Little Rock, although so far none of their requests have been approved.
In July, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) spoke out against 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 monument meant that it was a more serious undertaking.
"We want it to be exclusive; we want it to be reasoned," said Hutchinson. "We want it to be reflective."
The Satanic Temple argues that the legislature may not give preferential treatment to Christianity and the Ten Commandments. The group said it's prepared to pursue legal options if Arkansas rejects or ignores its application.
"The State either allows for an open forum available to private donors, or it does not," Greaves said Tuesday. "The Legislature doesn't need to approve our monument, as the approval of the Ten Commandments already established the parameters by which monuments are allowed on Capitol Grounds. We clearly meet all their criteria with Baphomet."
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