- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A day after it stalled before a legislative panel, an effort to allow a privately funded monument to the Ten Commandments near the Arkansas Capitol advanced to the state Senate on Tuesday for a vote.

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed by a voice vote the proposal to let a private group pay for and build a monument to the commandments on the Capitol grounds. The bill by Republican Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway failed a day earlier before the committee on a 3-3 vote, two shy of the five needed to advance.

Rapert has said the monument would commemorate the role the commandments have played in the nation’s legal system. He’s also argued 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.

“There’s no problem at all with honoring the Ten Commandments as a part of American tradition and jurisprudence,” Rapert said after the vote.

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

A lawsuit challenging a similar monument at the Oklahoma state Capitol is pending before that state’s Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has opposed Rapert’s proposal, saying it violates of the First Amendment’s prohibition against government-established religion.

“It sends a signal that the state of Arkansas endorses one religion over another and religion over non-religion and it alienates the people who don’t share those views,” Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said after the vote.

Rapert said he expected to bring the proposal before the full Senate on Wednesday for a vote.


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

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