Arkansas will regret placing Ten Commandments monument at Capitol

1tencommandarkansasThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling the state of Arkansas' decision to place a massive Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol a huge misstep.

The Arkansas Statehouse passed a law in 2015 sponsoring a Ten Commandments marker. After years of legal disputes, work crews placed the plaque today, June 27, on the Capitol grounds. The placement is unconstitutional, will be costly to taxpayers, and will be regretted, FFRF asserts.

"We expect that this monument will be challenged by Arkansas citizens and that it will be struck down by our courts, which have an obligation to uphold the First Amendment," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "This shameless promotion of religion by legislators will not be allowed to stand."

FFRF opposed the original legislation sponsoring the Ten Commandments monument and also requested that the Arkansas secretary of state abide by his oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States by refraining from placing the monument. The freethought organization's letter noted that the legal precedent often cited in support of the monument, Van Orden v. Perry, actually stands in staunch opposition. Justice Stephen Breyer stated in his opinion, which is controlling:

"[I]n today's world, in a nation of so many different religious and comparable nonreligious fundamental beliefs, a more contemporary state effort to focus attention upon a religious text is certainly likely to prove divisive in a way that this longstanding, pre-existing monument has not."

But Arkansas seems to have willfully defied the intent of the judgment.

"The state lacks any precedent that would allow this modern Ten Commandments to stand," says FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

A similar Ten Commandments monument in New Mexico was recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal appellate court. In 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that an identical monument was unconstitutional under the state constitution. In recent years, FFRF has secured court victories removing Ten Commandments monuments from two public school districts in Pennsylvania.

So, a legal challenge to the Arkansas monument is likely, given the divisive history of the marker. In fact, the ACLU has previously said it plans to sue to challenge the monument.

"When Arkansas officials inevitably lose in court, taxpayers will be on the hook to cover the attorneys fees for the plaintiffs," notes Elliott. Those fees in Establishment Clause cases often amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The state of Arkansas should bear that in mind before committing itself to a disastrous course.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with more than 29,000 members nationwide, including in Arkansas.

[Photo Caption: Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored the Ten Commandments law, stands near the monument on June 27]

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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