Quote of the Week, part 1:
"Arkansas [has a] substantial number of Hindu residents and students who would love to see a statue of Lord Hanuman, who was greatly revered and worshipped and known for incredible strength and was perfect grammarian. If permitted, we plan to make it big and weatherproof."
—Hindu leader Rajan Zed, in a news release announcing his intent to erect a privately funded statue of Hanuman, a Hindu god with the features of a monkey, on the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol. Zed pointed out that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill in April that will allow for a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol, so why not Lord Hanuman?
Quote of the Week, part 2:
"There are plenty of areas in the United States crying out for a counter-balance to existing graven tributes to archaic Abrahamic barbarism ... . Arkansas is looking rather appealing."
— Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, expressing interest in providing the Capitol grounds with its own answer to the Ten Commandments: An 8-and-a-half-foot bronze statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed idol.
Quote of the Week, part 3:
"The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination in our state the last time I looked, has boldly declared on a national level that they will all refuse to submit to this unjust ruling and urged civil disobedience — why on earth would anyone not understand that message? GOP governors around the country are taking stands in support of the will of their people — why is he not doing that[?]"
—State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) in a letter to fellow senators expressing unhappiness that Gov. Asa Hutchinson is complying with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage, rather than taking marching orders on public policy from SBC President Ronnie Floyd. Rapert, unsurprisingly, also sponsored the bill to allow installation of the Ten Commandments monument.
The new Lost Cause
Any hope that Arkansas Republicans might see the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, not to mention rising poll numbers on the issue, as a signal to leave behind the politics of anti-gay demagoguery were dashed late last week.
The state House Republican Caucus and Senate Republican Caucus each released statements inveighing against the Supreme Court ruling and promising action. The Senate caucus provided more specifics about what opposition might look like: the introduction of legislation to protect the First Amendment rights of those who disapprove of marriage, including county clerks who don't want to issue licenses to same-sex couples for religious reasons.
Color us surprised when Gov. Asa Hutchinson came to the rescue to swat away the bigoted posturing. "The ability of pastors, churches, and private individuals to follow their own convictions on marriage is protected under the First Amendment and has not been affected by the Supreme Court's ruling," Hutchinson wrote in a statement. "In terms of further legislative action, I am not aware of any legislation that would protect county clerks from the requirements of the ruling."
The old Lost Cause
Confederate flags still fly high in Arkansas. The recent flurry of national pressure to remove the banner from public places (and retailers' shelves) sparked protests last weekend in Russellville, Conway and Harrison. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, the state Senate voted 36-3 for the once unthinkable: To remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.
Last week, Benton unveiled a new secret weapon to attract economic development: Ben, an inflatable mascot with a bald head, a large cartoon nose and a mouth open in either a smile or a sign of mania, perhaps depending on how you view middle-aged office-drone cartoons come to life. A poll on Arkansas Online, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's website, seemed to support the latter. Asked what readers thought of Ben, "He's creepy/terrifying/otherwise unsettling" had amassed a sizable plurality. Not included on the poll: "He looks like a penis." The mascot cost the city $2,500 to create.
Better late than never
Two Purple Hearts were awarded last week at the Capitol to Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville and, posthumously, to William Long of Conway. Long was killed and Ezeagwula wounded in the June 1, 2009, attack at a Little Rock military recruiting station by Abdulhakim Muhammad, a Memphis-born convert to Islam who's now serving a life sentence. The awards were made possible by a recent change in law that makes members of the military who were killed or wounded in a terrorist attack on American soil eligible for Purple Hearts.