Capitol clutter

Why not just keep the grounds clean?

IT’S ALL set now , literally etched in stone and ready to join the garden of the gods now taking the place of the lush law n that once ran undisturbed down the Arkansas state Capitol’s hillside till it reached the curb. But that idyllic scene has disappeared over the years as one monumental mistake after another has obscured the view. You name the god and a graven image thereof may soon appear in his/her/ its honor in this increasingly crowded tableau.

Next in the waiting line may be Baphomet, a goatlike satanic figure with wings. For once the constitutional separation of church and state is breached, all gods are created equal when it comes to vying for a place on our state Capitol’s fast disappearing lawn. There’s now a proposal—from the Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society—to build still another structure on the Capitol grounds: a brick wall, that would hide such monuments from public view. Which might be the decent thing to do if it didn’t involve building still another structure on the grounds to hide earlier ones. So does one folly succeed and exceed another.

Now a 6-foot-tall stone monument etched with the Ten Commandments is to be installed on the state Capitol’s grounds next month, weather permitting. For the rain has been unrelenting of late. Two years of debate on the appropriateness of this replica of the Ten Commandments have come and gone since The Hon. Jason Rapert, that font of bad ideas, came up with his proposal to install a showy replica of the Big Ten as a kind of roadside attraction.

Has there ever been so much ado about a question that could have been resolved by just leaving beautiful enough alone? At latest count, some 700 comments have been phoned in by concerned citizens and 600 have arrived by snail mail. Having stood aside while the right to free speech was threatened by campus mobs calling themselves student protesters, the American Civil Liberties Union has been heard from, too. It’s threatening to sue if the monument to the Ten Commandments goes up in this state. Talk about selective outrage.

A group styling itself the American Heritage and History Foundation says it has raised the money to pay for building this memorial to the Ten Commandments, so often observed only in the breach, and pay for laying a foundation for the 6,000-pound monument.

Oh, yes, there are other impediments to erecting this monument on what may be the best known piece of real property We the People of Arkansas own. Consider the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which unequivocally states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That’s right: Even a law about an exercise of religion or forbidding its expression is constitutionally dubious. Talk about a Keep off the Grass sign, this one is spelled out in no uncertain terms in the very first Amendment.

WHAT, the Hon. Jason Rapert worry? He’s the state senator from metropolitan Bigelow who defends placing this monument to the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds not as an act of piety but as one motivated by purely historical reasons. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court has an engraving of the Ten Commandments on its building and elsewhere within it. Talk about the triumph of civil religion over the real thing, Senator Rapert’s rationalizations sum it up. This is what comes of trying to downgrade an act of religious devotion to only an historical footnote.

This controversy is bound to be continued as other people with the very best of intentions produce the very worst of results. It was a German named Bismarck who said God protects fools, drunkards and the United States of America—but why tempt Him?

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