- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Senate voted Wednesday to allow a Ten Commandments display to be built near the Capitol, a move the lawmaker has called a nod to history but critics have said would amount to the state endorsing religion.

The bill approved by the Senate on a 27-3 vote would require the state to allow a privately-funded monument to the commandments be built on the Capitol grounds, with the design and location approved by the secretary of state. The bill now heads to the House to the vote.

“This, to me, is a historical significance thing,” Republican Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway said after his bill was approved. “Nobody would be forced to view the monument. Nobody is asked to pledge to the monument. It simply allows us to give honor and would be a great addition to the Capitol grounds.”

During a brief debate over the measure, one supporter compared the monument to an “In God We Trust” sign over the entrance to the state Senate chamber. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s spokesman said the governor was reviewing the legislation. If the bill becomes law, Arkansas could join neighboring states Oklahoma and Texas in having a Ten Commandments monument near its Capitol.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Texas monument - 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. A lawsuit challenging a similar monument at the Oklahoma state Capitol is pending before that state’s Supreme Court.

Opponents of Rapert’s proposal have said the monument would violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against government establishment of religion, and argued the display would alienate Arkansans of other faiths or no faith.

“Is Arkansas going to fall apart because we don’t put the Ten Commandments in a place they should not be?” Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott said before the vote. “Is this necessary for us? What problem are we solving?”

Rapert’s proposal also includes a provision allowing the Liberty Legal Institute to help defend the monument if its constitutionality is challenged in court.


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

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