LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Opponents of an effort to build a Ten Commandments monument near Arkansas' Capitol urged a panel to reject the statue on grounds that it could bring lawsuits, while the lawmaker behind the display said Wednesday that the only decision remaining is where to install it.
The privately funded monument is, by law, allowed to be on Capitol grounds. But the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission must issue its recommendation on the monument's location and design to Secretary of State Mark Martin before he can approve it.
Opponents have said the monument, which weighs 6,000 pounds and stands more than 6 feet tall, amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and would be quickly challenged in court.
"I'm asking you here, don't give me a great lawsuit that lets me make a bunch of money," attorney Gerry Schulze said at a committee subcommittee hearing.
Backers have said the display would honor the role that the Ten Commandments have had in the nation's laws and legal system.
"If we had more people that would look at the Ten Commandments. ... if they lived by those and applied them to their lives and treated people like the Ten Commandments expresses, we probably wouldn't have to have as many lawyers," said Arvin Adams, pastor of Miracle Lighthouse Church in Harrison.
The proposed monument has brought calls for competing displays, such as a Baphomet statue proposed by the Satanic Temple. The subcommittee is expected to review that proposal at a meeting next month, and has not yet set meeting during which to gather public comments. The Saline Atheist and Skeptic Society has proposed a brick "Wall of Separation" to go between the two displays.
Officials have said both proposals would still need legislative approval even if they're backed by the 10-member commission. A date has not been set for the commission to vote on the Ten Commandments display.
Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored last year's successful legislation requiring the Ten Commandments display, said opponents were trying to intimidate the panel with the threat of lawsuits and said the decision on whether to allow the monument was already made.
"You don't have to decide whether you do put up this monument or not. It's about where you put it up and if it's aesthetically pleasing for the state of Arkansas," Rapert said.
Subcommittee member Tony Leraris said he didn't believe the panel had the authority to deny the statue outright.
"We did not vote for this. We did not vote against it. It was done in a prior session," Leraris said.
Martin's office has received hundreds of calls, with 115 callers in support of the Ten Commandments display, while 111 oppose it or any religious monument.
"If you want to celebrate something that is the basis of our laws, then why not a monument to the U.S. Constitution, the Arkansas Constitution and the Bill of Rights," said D. Bruce Hill, president of Arkansas Universalist Unitarian Justice Ministry. "I think that would be much more appropriate for the state Capitol grounds."
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