by Max Brantley
Dear Senator Jason Rapert,
Following an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision, which ruled a 10 Commandments monument at the Capitol grounds to be in violation of their state constitution, we (The Satanic Temple) began considering alternative locales at which to offer our Baphomet monument. As the entire point of our monument is that it pay homage to secular law and constitutional pluralism, our monument must be displayed — if displayed publicly — where another monument of religious significance exists. A single religious monument on public grounds conveys a message of Government endorsement of a particular viewpoint. Multiple monuments of contrasting viewpoints, however, may stand as testament to our cherished First Amendment values.
It so happens that Arkansas recently passed a Bill in the Senate, signed into law by the Governor, allowing for a privately donated 10 Commandments monument to be erected on the State Capitol grounds in Little Rock. Lest anybody mistake this act as an effort toward asserting true religious freedom, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made clear that non-Christian religious views need not apply, stating, "We [by which he apparently means himself] want it [the ability to place monuments on the Capitol grounds] to be exclusive."
You, Sen. Jason Rapert, were the lead sponsor of the 10 Commandments Bill. You are openly dismissive of the very idea that other religious groups may enjoy the privileges you clearly intend to benefit the Christian perspective alone, and you have been particularly denigrating of The Satanic Temple. Speaking from ignorance, you openly disparage The Satanic Temple to the press and on your social media, mischaracterizing our beliefs and efforts. Learning that we (The Satanic Temple) are considering offering Baphomet to Little Rock, should a 10 Commandments proceed to be erected there, you have all but stated that our proposal wouldn't be worthy of consideration at all. In fact, you, Sen. Rapert — having gone on record stating that minority rights aren't inalienable, but rather granted at the whim of "We the majority" — seem to display outright contempt for free expression and religious pluralism. Unconscionably, you seem to have absolutely no grasp on the concept of Government viewpoint neutrality. As these are items of no minor import, and being that you don’t shy from inaccurately making mention of The Satanic Temple in pursuit of your theocratic efforts, I publicly offered to debate you in a neutral venue. Throughout this past week, as local Arkansas press reached out to interview me regarding the possibility of The Satanic Temple’s monument being donated to Little Rock, I asked that each journalist convey to you my willingness to debate, suggesting that their own media outlets might serve to act as intermediaries/moderators. I made clear that I would be willing to travel to Arkansas at a moment's notice to see this debate through.
Now, of course, you suddenly find that you would rather not give me the publicity you feel such a debate would offer. At least, that's what you tell the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. On your Facebook page, however, you grope for a convincing excuse for your failure to debate: "The Devil is a liar — why would I want to debate anyone who worships a liar?", you ask in a recent status update. Setting aside the fact that The Satanic Temple is non-theistic — worshipping no God or gods, and eschewing supernaturalism — your question is still puzzling and unclear. Are you, Sen. Jason Rapert, saying that you will not debate me because I am steeped in lies? Is this not, in fact, the bbest reason to debate somebody — to shine the light of truth upon lies and/or misinformation? Should not a Senator take the time to define for the people of Arkansas to what degree he believes that the Government should act as arbiters of “proper” religious and/or political expression? Can you, Sen. Rapert, justify your apparent disregard of minority rights, free speech, and religious freedom-for-all within the boundaries of constitutional authority? Is it not a matter of general concern that a public official is openly suggesting viewpoint discrimination to the benefit of his own personal tribal affiliations? Many legal scholars agree: once the State opens the door for one public display of religious significance, it’s opened the door to them all. You may argue that the majority of Arkansas doesn’t want a Satanic monument on Capitol grounds. That being the case, should you not be made to explain why you clearly opened the door to our inclusion, or how exactly you intend to keep us out? You may argue for the 10 Commandments historical legitimacy, but in fact we’ve chosen a monument design of equal or greater historical significance that I would be happy to educate you upon.
The idea that such a debate would give me undue publicity is also clearly ludicrous. Nearly every news outlet in Arkansas has already written of The Satanic Temple's possible monument bid. You, Sen. Rapert, already openly argue against the legitimacy of our claims. If you are truly confident in the accuracy of your constitutional interpretation and the faultiness of my own position, you should gladly welcome the opportunity to correct me publicly, for I am not alone in my convictions. To willfully turn one's back on questions of such fundamental significance, when put to the question is enormously irresponsible and contemptible. It's simply difficult to believe that you could truly be as spineless and as craven as that.
My offer to debate you, Senator, still stands, and I hope that the people of Arkansas see value enough in the questions presented to urge you to defend your views in a respectful, neutral, public forum.
The Satanic Temple