Satanic Temple asks to join suit
It is religious group, merits Capitol monument, filing says
The Satanic Temple, which describes itself as “an organized religion” with a mission to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people,” has filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit opposing the Ten Commandments monument re-installed April 26 on the state Capitol grounds.
“Movants are well acquainted with the litigation but have an independent theory of relief and an alternative prayer for relief,” states the motion filed on behalf of the religion, member Erika Robbins of Little Rock and co-founder Lucien Greaves of Salem, Mass.
The lawsuit contends that placement of the monument at the Capitol constitutes an illegal government endorsement of religion in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
That lawsuit began as two
separate lawsuits filed May 23 by members of a walking and cycling club who say the 6-foot-tall monolith interferes with their enjoyment of a regular walking route, and by a group of people representing diverse religious viewpoints, led by Anne Orsi, president of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. The freethinkers group also says the marker’s presence is unconstitutional. The walking group is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas.
The proposed intervenors, jointly represented by Matthew Kezhaya of the Pinnacle Law Group of Rogers and Stuart P. de Haan of Tucson, Ariz., said Thursday that they are seeking a court order not necessarily to remove the Ten Commandments monument, but to require the state to install their religious monument as well.
The Satanic Temple wants to erect an 8½-foot-tall bronze statue of Baphomet — a deity that is part man, part goat — on the Capitol grounds.
The motion filed Thursday says Robbins has been injured by “disparate treatment” shown by the state in which she lives, and asserts, “This court can order the placement of the Baphomet Monument on public grounds; or the court can order the removal of the Ten Commandments Monument and permanently enjoin the state from placing a new one. Either will resolve her issue.”
The Satanic Temple went before the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission to get approval to erect the Baphomet Monument, only to be halted by a law — sponsored by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton — that went into effect in February 2017 and requires lawmakers to approve proposals to erect new monuments before they can be considered by the commission.
The first Ten Commandments monument was installed at the Capitol on June 27, 2017, but it was toppled within 24 hours by a man who rammed it with his vehicle during the night. The man was later found mentally unfit to proceed to trial.
A replacement monument, this time surrounded by 3-foot-tall bollards, was installed April 26 in the same location at the behest of Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who created the American History and Heritage Foundation. Donations to the foundation paid for the monument after Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office allowed its installation.
“In every constitutionally relevant respect, The Satanic Temple’s monument was identical to the Ten Commandments Monument,” the motion states. “The state’s refusal to place the Baphomet Monument has led The Satanic Temple to this court.”
Those represented by the motion seek an order to place a “similar monument of significance to them in the spirit of equal protection under the law.”
In an affidavit, Greaves said he has personally seen the Ten Commandments monument, and “this direct and personal contact was offensive and unwelcome to me. I am offended that the State of Arkansas is sending a message to all non-adherents of Senator Rapert’s peculiar brand of Christianity that they are political outsiders.”
Robbins also supplied an affidavit, saying the Ten Commandments monument “makes me feel like I am a second-class citizen in my home state and town.”
She said that because of it, “I now avoid the public grounds on which it is situated. This excludes me from Arkansas capitol grounds and thereby prevents me from participating in my state government.”
The motion to intervene notes that the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit “consent to intervention,” but the state has “announced an unspecified objection which would require Court resolution,” and asks U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to “either grant the motion without a hearing or entertain a hearing on this motion.”
The proposed complaint in the intervention states that in a 2015 state law permitting the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol, the state “purports to prescribe sectarian religious rules upon the populace of this state. It specifically endorses one sect of religion above all others (“Thou Shalt have no other gods before me.”) This is anathema to our secular system of government.”