The battle over the Ten Commandments monument outside the Arkansas State Capitol has encountered a pandemic-related delay, but that’s not the only issue that’s concerning.
Some background for those who have forgotten about this saga: In 2018, Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert defied warnings from church/state separation activists when he installed a stand-alone Ten Commandments monument outside the Capitol. Within a month, two separate groups had filed lawsuits against the state.
One of the lawsuits was filed by a coalition of non-theistic groups, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Humanist Association, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, and seven individuals (both religious and nonreligious) who live in the state. They sued Secretary of State Mark Martin, who allowed all this to happen. (The defendant is now John Thurston, the current Secretary of State.)
The other lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Arkansas on behalf of four atheist and agnostic women.
Those cases were quickly consolidated by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.
As those cases were being considered, it was unusual that neither of them involved The Satanic Temple, since that group really fueled the controversy. You may recall that they applied to put up their own statue of Baphomet via the same process used to approve the Christian display… but they were rejected.
In 2018, they filed a motion to act as “intervenors” in this legal battle. In short, that meant they were asking the courts to let them join in the litigation because they would directly be affected by how a judge rules on this matter in the other lawsuits. It was a way to piggyback on the other cases.
The judge approved that motion.
Then things started getting even stranger.
Rapert took part in a videotaped deposition… but fought to prevent that deposition from going public because he claimed people would take his words out of context “to cause him extreme embarrassment and harassment.” He neglected to consider that he never needs to be taken out of context to look bad. His own words, in context, generally do the job just fine. (A local journalist publicly asked Rapert to give him a full copy of the deposition, which he would then post online without editing. It didn’t happen. Shocking.) Eventually, the judge caved and allowed the deposition to remain under seal.
Rapert also hasn’t offered up any financial documents about how much money was raised or how it was spent. Which means we have no idea who donated more than $85,000 to erect the monument.
And then, while all that is happening, a non-jury trial was set to begin this week regarding the entire matter itself: Is the monument constitutional? But because of the pandemic, we’ll have to wait at least a couple more months.
A non-jury trial that had been scheduled to begin next week on whether the Ten Commandments monument violates the constitutional concept of separation of church and state has been postponed for 60 to 90 days as a result of disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A new trial date hadn’t been set as of Thursday.
So we wait.
I would still contend that Rapert sees this as a win-win either way. If the monument stays up, he gets to be a Christian Right hero. If the monument comes down — which it absolutely has to based on legal precedent — he’ll just pretend to be a victim of Christian persecution.
Remember that Rapert has already announced his plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2022 — possibly alongside gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders. This monument controversy, no matter how it turns out, would be quite the résumé booster for someone whose only political goal is to use the government to promote right-wing Christianity.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)