By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) – Arkansas installed a Ten Commandments monument on the state’s Capitol grounds on Tuesday, and a civil liberties group pledged a court challenge, saying it showed an unconstitutional government preference for a certain religion.
Legislators approved the act for the monument in 2015, and whether it was appropriate for the public grounds has been debated since. Similar monuments erected in Oklahoma and Alabama were ordered removed by courts.
At the installation ceremony for the some 3,000-pound (1,360 kg) granite slab in Little Rock, state Senator Jason Rapert noted that the Ten Commandments were chiseled into the portals of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“If it’s good enough for the U.S. Capitol, it’s good enough for the state of Arkansas,” said Rapert, an evangelist who sponsored the legislation permitting the new monument.
But Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group is preparing to file a lawsuit over the monument’s placement.
“It’s a visible symbol of government endorsement of one particular religious belief over others, or over no belief,” Sklar said.
Since Arkansas’ Ten Commandments monument act was proposed about two years ago, Satanists and other groups have also sought state permission to place monuments on capitol grounds but were rejected.
Rapert and other supporters of the monument noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 had ruled in favor of a similar memorial on the Texas state capitol grounds. They said they were confident the Arkansas version would withstand a legal challenge.
But Sklar said the Supreme Court had noted the Texas monument had been in place for decades, giving it historical value.
In 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered a Ten Commandments monument to be removed from capitol grounds there because the state’s constitution bans the use of state property for the benefit of a religion.
(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)