The Freedom From Religion Foundation is one of three sets of plaintiffs making the case today for removal of a Ten Commandments monolith from the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol in the federal courtroom of Judge Kristine G. Baker. FFRF Legal Counsel Sam Grover and local counsel Gerry Schulze are representing FFRF member Anne Orsi, three secular organizations and other individual plaintiffs in oral arguments.
Another set of four plaintiffs are represented by the Arkansas Civil Liberties Union Foundation, and the Satanic Temple has intervened in the case as a third plaintiff party.
Former state Sen. Jason Rapert, founder and president of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, sponsored the bill to install the biblical edicts in 2015. The law states that the Ten Commandments “are an important component of the moral foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the state of Arkansas,” and “represent a philosophy of government held by many of the founders of this nation.”
The first monument, installed in 2017, did not survive being crashed into by a car driven by a mentally ill believer. But that monument was replaced, prompting the secular groups to file multiple lawsuits in 2018, combined as Cave v. Thurston and Orsi v. Martin. Meanwhile the Satanic Temple asked to place its monument to Baphomet on the Capitol grounds.
FFRF, along with the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and the American Humanist Association, filed a summary judgment motion earlier this spring asking for removal of the religious display. The Satanic Temple asked that either the monument be removed or the temple’s statue also be installed, or even replace the Ten Commandments and stay up for the same duration.
The Ten Commandments are undeniably religious in nature, FFRF’s brief notes, and its placement has created precisely the kind of religious divisiveness the Establishment Clause was intended to prevent. The religious message “is an archetypical violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” charges FFRF’s brief. The use of our secular government for the advancement of one religion’s beliefs above all others is, to put it plainly, un-American.
“Of course, there’s no reference to the bible or God, much less to the Ten Commandments, in our secular Constitution, which is the foundational document that governs our nation,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The First Commandment alone — dictating which deity alone must be worshiped — is in clear and direct contravention of our First Amendment.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, founded nationally in 1978 as an educational nonprofit, serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) and works as a state/church watchdog. FFRF has more than 40,000 members nationwide, including hundreds in Arkansas.