The Arkansas State Capital 10 commandments monument was re-dedicated this morning and Lucien Greaves was on hand to watch our good friend State Senator Stanley J Rapert apparently use his dedication speech to try and litigate his case for the monument in the court of public opinion. You can watch the full video from Greaves Facebook Live video of the dedication below:
Well, if he wants to make his case in the press …
One thing you have to give to Rapert is the consistency of his argument, which he’s made very plain lots of times in public if you’re a muckraking investigative hack like yours truly. Here’s S.J. Rapert and pastor Scott Stewart on a Arkansas based youtube network (back in the day we’d call this a public access show, but that’s technology for you).
Most people have never watched this video. At the time of my writing it had a whopping 117 views (and about a dozen of those were me re-finding the link). It’s interesting though, because you can clearly see what Rapert and his pals are up to.
The strategy seems to be that Rapert just sticks to his talking points about it being a historical monument. Then he’ll appear along side a pastor or the guy who made the ‘God’s not Dead’ movies and they’re the ones that start talking about god and religion. This keeps him a hair’s breadth away from actually admitting that his purposes are religiously motivated in public by having proxy speakers.
Like all good skeptics we need to take the dude at his word and ignore the ancillary comments of his friends and sycophants. So let’s break down the arguments that Rapert appears to be making.
Rapert Claims the Arkansas Monument is Legal Because It’s Privately Funded
That’s … a weaselly argument at best. In the Oklahoma monument case the construction of the monument was privately funded too, but the OK State Supreme Court ruled that under the Oklahoma state constitution the government couldn’t use money OR property to benefit any religion, so it was moved to private property. Arkansas has tried to avoid this by saying that the maintenance costs of the statue are also the responsibility of the donor, but that does nothing to address the religiosity of the statue. In Arkansas, the state constitution says “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other” which, assuming either the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or The Satanic Temple (TST) can successfully argue that the monument is religious could be a big problem for Rapert.
Rapert Claims that the 10 Commandments Monument Isn’t a Religious Monument, but a Secular Recognition of the Pentateuch’s Significance to History of Common Law
This really should be a big problem for Rapert seeing as his lip-service to the statue being a monument to the historical foundations of common law are pretty flimsy compared to, if not his own admissions in newsletters to contributors, then the actual history of common law.
Rapert has also readily admitted his religious motives before on many occasions while preaching to religious congregations saying things like how he doesn’t believe that his job as a Senator is to respect the will of his constituents:
“I just decided, there’s only one vote that matters in my life. Unfortunately it’s not the 83-85 thousand people in my district. There’s only one vote that matters. And that’s when I stand before the lord at that judgement scene. And I decided it’s more important to do what is right by god.” – source
In addition, there’s a real question about whether the adoption of the 10 commandments monument along with efforts to deny TST’s Baphomet monument constitute State discrimination. I’ll let Lucien Greaves explain that part with this clip from yesterday’s event.
Other Places have 10 Commandment Monuments
Ok, this one isn’t quite so simple. Rapert likes to point to similar monuments like the ones in Texas or Phoenix, AZ. The problem is case law doesn’t really back up his claim from what I can tell. See, in the Texas case they were allowed to keep the monument because it had been there for 40 years and was ruled historical in and of itself. Basically, no one complained for ages so now the statue, not it’s content, is a symbol of the 20th century history of the area. We can quibble about whether that’s an appeal to tradition fallacy but it doesn’t change the court’s ruling. In Phoenix, the situation is entirely different because the monument is in a monument park along with other monuments dedicated to other groups like a Jewish War Veterans Memorial, a Navajo Codetalkers Memorial, an Armenian Martyrs Memorial, a Confederate Troops Memorial, and a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The Phoenix Monument is surrounded by a diverse and pluralistic set of other monuments which makes for much different legal footing.
The Law Allowing the Monument Says It Isn’t Religious
When the Arkansas legislature voted to approve the monument the bill directly stated that the placement of the Ten Commandments at the Capitol was not to be “construed to mean the state of Arkansas favors any particular religion or denomination over another”. That’s all well and good until such time as another monument tried to seek approval on the same grounds. Remember, TST only seeks to put the Baphoment monument where other religiously inspired monuments exist. It’s not intended to be a stand alone endorsement of Satanism, but a symbol of plurality when taken in context with other monuments in the same space. As Greaves stated in a TST newsletter Wednesday ahead of the dedication ceremony:
“… if the bill itself couldn’t be construed as religious favoritism, the state’s rejection of other religious viewpoints certainly is. Further destroying the state’s already untenably difficult defense of the monument, Rapert has taken to local pulpits declaring the United States a ‘Christian Nation,’ openly discussing his agenda to bring his religion alone to the public square, to the exclusion of all others. Arkansas’s state constitution holds that ‘no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other.’ Rapert’s misconstrual of law goes beyond mere incompetence, his manipulation of truth beyond mere misinformation, his abuse of his office beyond mere misconduct. I would posit that his bald efforts to undermine, ignore, and utterly diminish the constitution he swore to uphold, abusing his office to illegally impose his religious viewpoint, is tantamount to treason. Rapert has so loudly declared his unconstitutional agenda so often that he’s destroyed any credible legal defense of his efforts.”
So What Happens Now?
The path forward is that the ACLU is going to sue Arkansas, possibly along with other groups to dispute the constitutionality of the monument. Then TST will file as an ‘intervenor,’ merging all the cases into one case. To win that case, Arkansas will both have to counter the ACLU’s argument that the monument is a religious endorsement, and TST’s claim that they were denied access to the public forum on religious grounds. Despite Rapert’s projected confidence, that argument seems like a very hard sell to me.