- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - On the same day Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for reconsideration of a religious protection bill cast as anti-gay, lawmakers forwarded him a proposal to allow a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol.

House members voted 72-7 Wednesday to allow the erection of a privately funded display, pending approval of the secretary of state.

Republican Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton said the bill will honor the role the commandments played in the nation’s legal system.

“The Ten Commandment monument is a visible reminder intended to keep us focused outside of ourselves just as the founders looked outside of themselves for guidance,” Hammer said.

The only vocal opponent to the bill was Rep. John Walker, a Democratic attorney from Little Rock. He said the bill is an unnecessarily divisive issue that is unconstitutional.

“Even though the private philanthropy will pay for this monument, it will certainly be litigated and then the state of Arkansas will have to pay the litigation cost,” Walker said.

Walker compared the effort to religious freedom laws in Arkansas and Indiana that critics say are attempts to sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians. He said a Ten Commandments monument would harm the state’s image.

“We will be, as we are now in some respects, the laughing stock of the United States along with Indiana,” Walker said.

Hammer and Walker disagreed over the constitutionality of the proposal.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 upheld a challenge to a similar Texas monument, but struck down displays in two Kentucky courthouses. The court said the key to whether a display is constitutional hinges on whether there is a religious purpose behind it.

In Oklahoma, which Hammer said helped inspire the Arkansas bill, several non-Christian groups have asked to place their own monuments on the Capitol grounds. Notably, the Satanic Temple wants to erect a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard.

A Satanic Temple spokesman said the group plans to use the same mold for an Arkansas monument, if the Ten Commandments bill passes.

It’s unclear if Hutchinson will sign the bill. His spokesman didn’t return a request for comment.


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