The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
One might think this means that governments should be free of religious influence, meaning religious icons should be prohibited on the grounds of government buildings, especially the Arkansas Capitol. However, the Ten Commandments monument was erected on the basis that it was not religious, but rather historical.
“During the debate over the Ten Commandments statue legislation, supporters argued that it was not a religious monument, but instead highlighted the historic importance of the commandments as a legal document.”
So let’s accept this argument and say that historic — or rather theological importance — of the ten commandments warrants an acknowledgement of how Christian populations, particularly those of America, have believed in the sacredness of such things as not lying, stealing, and committing adultery. Notwithstanding, the anachronistic nature of these commandments as Judaism, a religion of the Old Testament which includes the Ten Commandments, states that the guidance these rules provide was for a population at the very start of civilization itself, the historic argument of placing religious iconography on public grounds would need to include the history of all religions or fall foul of prejudice against any religion that is not Christian.
Arkansas has denied the erection of a Hindu statue of Hindu Lord Hanuman, whose influence stretches far beyond that of any one faith. Buddhists and Chinese poetry allude to Lord Hanuman.
“For his service to Rama, Hanuman is upheld as a model for all human devotion (bhakti).”
Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and is the inspiration for peaceful movements worldwide. In short, Lord Hanuman is the Ten Commandments of Hinduism. One might argue that accepting a Lord Hanuman statue would favor Hinduism, but the Arkansas secretary of state’s office also denied PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) the right to erect an application for a permit to display a crippled-chicken statue near a McDonald’s restaurant.
Why is this a problem? The media attention to this story centers around the foundation of democracy: free speech. If Arkansas allows the free speech of Christian symbols for their historical significance then to deny other historically significant symbols is a violation of free speech. The favoritism of the Ten Commandments, from a legalistic standpoint, indicates that the governors of Arkansas are attempting to cloak an imposition of their particular dogma with the support of taxpayer monies.
It is ironic that Lord Hanuman represents love of Rama and Sita, the underlying story of Diwali, which for those who have never experienced Hindu culture, is the equivalent of Christmas, that is, the celebration of the most sacred religious principle of love for all humanity. As fewer Americans identify as Christians, we should encourage Arkansas, and all states, to recognize the importance of historical figures of peace in all religions.