A bill which would allow for the installation of a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol cleared the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs this morning. It now goes to a vote before the full House.
Senate Bill 939 would allow private funds to pay for the creation and installation of a monument bearing the old testament Ten Commandments. The bill states that in the event of a constitutional challenge, the Attorney General’s office may present a legal defense or ask that a defense be prepared by Liberty Legal Institute, a Texas-based law firm.
SB939 was presented by Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), who said that the bill was “patterned after what was done in a few other states,” including Oklahoma, where Hammer said a Ten Commandments monument has withstood the scrutiny of state and federal courts. A fund would be set up for citizens to donate toward the monument if the bill becomes law
Anne Orsi, an attorney from Little Rock was one of several people who spoke against the bill, saying that the bill should not become law. Orsi said that the bill’s contention that American law is based in any way on the Ten Commandments is incorrect. “This simply isn’t true, either from a legal history standpoint or a practical standpoint.” American law, Orsi said, is mostly based on English Common Law. Orsi noted what should have been patently obvious to everybody in the room: that several of the Ten Commandments refer specifically about the deity of a particular religion, and therefore the installation of a monument to them on public grounds would be a violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.
“The first four [commandments] are about worshipping the Abrahamic God,” Orsi said. “That’s picking one God out of many and that’s establishing religion. We should not do that. It’s unconstitutional, according to the First Amendment, the first of our Bill of Rights.”
Given that one of the Ten Commandments likely coming soon to public property near you is Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, the following exchange between Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock) and Hammer during Hammer’s closing for the bill must be noted:
WALKER: “Rep. Hammer, does the bill have a tendency to prefer Christianity over other forms of religion that do not recognize the Ten Commandments in the state of Arkansas?”
HAMMER: “First of all, I’d like to note that I’m not the one that has initiated the conversation that this bill is being presented on the basis of supporting one religion over the other. Mine is supported from simply the fact that it’s of historical value, and we want to give representation and placement to a piece of history that has been around, probably, even before the country started. So in regards to answer your question: no.”