- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An effort to allow a privately-funded monument to the Ten Commandments near the Arkansas state Capitol stalled during a legislative panel Monday after facing criticism that it would amount to state-established religion.

The proposal to require the state to let a private group pay for and build a monument to the commandments on the Capitol grounds failed before the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on a 3-3 vote. The measure needed at least five votes to advance to the full Senate.

Republican Sen. Jason Rapert said the proposal would commemorate the role the commandments have played in the nation’s legal system. He said he believed the monument would be constitutional, citing a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court upholding a similar display at the Texas state Capitol - while striking down Ten Commandments 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.

“I think as part of our state Capitol, it would make a nice addition and give a nice honor to the fact that this is a part of the foundation of American jurisprudence,” Rapert told the panel.

Rapert’s proposal would have required the secretary of state to approve the design and site placement for such a display. The bill also included a provision allowing the Liberty Legal Institute to help defend the monument if its constitutionality is challenged in court.

Opponents of the proposed monument said it would violate the First Amendment by endorsing one religion over others.

“When the government puts up a Ten Commandments display, it sends a message to people of other faiths, of no faith, that they’re second class citizens,” Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, told the committee.

Rapert said he planned to try the proposal before the committee once more before the end of the legislative session, which could wrap up by the end of next week.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo


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