Home » News » Federal judge considers letting Ark. Supreme Court rule first on Ten Commandments monument case

By Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate, published on October 25, 2023

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Arkansas Supreme Court. Photo courtesy Arkansas Advocate

A federal judge on Oct. 23 requested additional briefs in a suit challenging the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds. 


The plaintiffs argue that Act 1231 of 2015, the Ten Commandments Monument Display Act, violates the Arkansas Constitution provision that deals with the separation of church and state. They also claim the law violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. 


The establishment clause prohibits Congress from creating any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” 


“In the light of the state and federal constitutional claims, a threshold question arises as to whether the Court should abstain and allow the Arkansas Supreme Court to consider certain issues concerning the Act,” U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker wrote.


Citing Lendall v. Cook, Baker said absention may be appropriate when the resolution of a state constitutional claim might remove the need to resolve the federal constitutional claim and the state constitutional provision doesn’t mirror a similar one in the federal constitution. 


Plaintiffs, who include a group of walkers who pass the monument regularly and people representing different religious viewpoints, and Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston have until Nov. 15 to file additional briefings on the issue of abstention, if they choose to do so, and until Dec. 6 for response briefs. 


The Arkansas Legislature passed the law permitting the construction of the Ten Commandments monument in 2015, and the first monument was installed in 2017.


In less than 24 hours, a man with a history of mental illness intentionally smashed his car into the display. A new monument — protected by concrete bollards — was installed in 2018 between the Capitol building and the Arkansas Supreme Court building, where it remains today. 


Several groups quickly filed federal lawsuits for the removal of the monument, and those efforts have been combined into one lawsuit, now in its fifth year.


Baker heard a full day of arguments on the suit in July.


Republished courtesy the Arkansas Advocate through a Creative Commons license.

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