Groups call for Hindu, vegan displays at Arkansas Capitol

AP News
|
Posted: Jul 07, 2015 4:33 PM
Groups call for Hindu, vegan displays at Arkansas Capitol

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Capitol lawn could soon get crowded: Existing statues that honor Confederate soldiers, fallen firefighters and the nine black children who integrated Little Rock Central High School might be joined shortly by tributes for vegans, a monkey-faced deity and a cloven-hooved demon.

State legislators this year approved placing a privately funded Ten Commandments display on Capitol grounds, perhaps opening a way for religious groups and others to erect their own displays. The Satanic Temple has said it may erect a bronze Baphomet, and on Tuesday two more groups stepped forward to say they want space to promote their deeply held beliefs.

The Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism proposes a statue of Lord Hanuman, an immortal deity with an ape-like face and a tail known for incredible strength, perseverance and devotion.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals told The Associated Press it wants a massive vegetable banner hung from the Arkansas Capitol.

The monument menagerie, legal challenges withstanding, could eventually gaze upon the fertile political grounds that nurtured President Bill Clinton and current presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mike Huckabee. The Capitol currently has 15 monuments including a tribute to the Little Rock Nine, a group of teenagers escorted into Central High School by federal troops in 1957.

Last week's decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to outlaw religious displays at the Oklahoma Statehouse has shifted the groups' attention to Arkansas, which closely copied Oklahoma in drafting its own Ten Commandments display law. The groups are proposing plans for Arkansas that are similar or identical to what they wanted in Oklahoma.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during an unrelated news conference Tuesday that he doesn't support the Hindu plan or that from The Satanic Temple, which advocates for the separation of church and state, to erect an 8½-foot-tall bronze Baphomet — a demonic goat-headed figure with horns, hooves, wings and a beard.

Arkansas lawmakers have argued, and the governor echoed, that the proposed Ten Commandments monument is of historical significance, rather than a purely religious display — a distinction used by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the legality of similar structures. Hutchinson said any of the groups would need to petition the secretary of state or have their own legislation sponsored.

"We don't want just every group putting a statue on the Capitol grounds," Hutchinson said. "We want it to be exclusive, we want it to be reasoned, we want it to be reflective and I think that's one of the reasons (the Ten Commandments monument) went through the legislative process to accomplish that."

The Satanists, Hindus and animal rights groups disagree, arguing their deeply held beliefs belong alongside the Ten Commandments.

"I think a lot of people who don't know the religion, it will be a good opportunity for them to be curious and search for more information," said Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism. "(The Lord Hanuman statue) would be a good educational tool."

PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt said the group will apply for a prominent vegan exhibition as soon as possible.

"We hope to display a banner that promotes a value system that people of other religions or no religion can appreciate or agree on — kindness and compassion toward all living beings," Rajt said.

The Church of the Latter-Day Dude — inspired by the film "The Big Lebowski" — and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had inquired about space at the Oklahoma Capitol but haven't yet petitioned Arkansas. They didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

___

Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.

___

Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Allen_Reed .