Little Rock, AR
A satanic statue, sponsored by the Satanic Temple, an atheist group, was unveiled at the Arkansas state capitol building in protest of a monument to the Ten Commandments that had been erected at the site in 2017. This move mirrors a similar case in Oklahoma, where in 2015 the state supreme court ruled the erection of a biblical statue in front of the state capitol unconstitutional.
The Satanic Temple is a group made up of atheists, humanists, and Free Speech advocates, according to The Washington Post. Founded in 2012, it currently has 15 chapters in the United States. Despite its name, the association does not require satanic worship, but uses satanic imagery to highlight what it feels are violations of the principle of the constitutional separation of church and state.
The movement gained notoriety in 2013, when it proposed an eight-foot-tall bronze statue of the satanic goat monster, Baphomet, to sit next to a Ten Commandments monument that had been built in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol a year earlier. In July 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments statue was illegal and would have to be removed, since it used public lands to support a specific religion.
The Satanic Temple lauded that decision and dropped its plans to install its own statue. But, in doing so, it left its newly created statue of Baphomet without a home. “Arkansas looks rather appealing,” answered Satanic Temple spokesman Doug Menser, when asked by the Post where the statue might end up.
In April 2015, the Arkansas state legislature had passed a bill authorizing a privately funded Ten Commandments statue at the steps of the state capitol building in Little Rock. In response, the Satanic Temple made plans to install there the Baphomet statue that had almost found a home in Oklahoma.
A monument to the Ten Commandments was installed on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol in June 2017, but was destroyed within 24 hours when a man rammed his car into it. The monument was replaced in April 2018, after private fundraising efforts by Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert, a Republican who sponsored the original bill to erect the Ten Commandments monument.
The Temple’s plans to install the goat statue were blocked in 2017 by a bill the Arkansas state legislature passed in an emergency session. The bill required all monuments at the capitol building to have legislative sponsorship, according to the Post.
Unable to find a state legislator to sponsor the installation of Baphomet at the state capitol, the Temple launched a crowdfunding campaign to transport it to Little Rock, and raised its $20,000 goal without difficulty, the Post said.
Rapert said he “respects” individuals’ free speech rights under the First Amendment, but that “it will be a very cold day in hell before an offensive statue will be forced upon us to be permanently erected on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol,” NPR reports.
Baphomet is unveiled at the Arkansas Capitol Building
On Thursday, August 16, 2018, Baphomet was unveiled in a temporary spot at the Arkansas statehouse to 150 cheering participants of a “First Amendment Rally.” Several counter-protesters also gathered at the capitol building, many holding Bible verses or signs that indicated they disapproved of the satanic statue.
Because the statue cannot stay at the capitol, Baphomet’s arrival has become, in effect, a temporary protest of the Ten Commandments monument, rather than a permanent installation. At the end of the protest, the Satanic Temple removed the statue, according to the AP.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) supports the Satanic Temple in its opposition to the Ten Commandments monument, and is seeking to join a lawsuit by the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU arguing that the biblical statue is discriminatory and unconstitutional, according to NPR.
Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20
Uploaded October 8, 2018