Arkansas Secretary of State rejects plan for Hindu statue at Capitol, says legislation needed

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The Arkansas secretary of state's office has denied a request from the Universal Society of Hinduism to place a privately funded Hindu statue on Capitol grounds, according to a rejection letter dated Aug. 17.

The society and a slew of other organizations have floated the possibility of putting their own monuments on Arkansas Capitol grounds since the Arkansas Legislature passed a law this year to erect a Ten Commandments statue. The Hindu society released a statement Friday saying it was considering sending its request to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the Ten Commandments statue law in April.

Society president Rajan Zed said Friday that the group had asked in an Aug. 6 letter to place a statue of the Hindu Lord Hanuman, known for his strength and correct grammar, on the Capitol grounds. The statue would have been designed, built and funded by private money.

"If permitted, we planned to make it big and weather-proof," Zed wrote in a statement. "Besides honoring the Arkansas Hindus, this statue would raise awareness of Arkansans about Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought."

The rejection letter told the group to either apply through the Legislature for permission or to submit an application to the Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission, which has jurisdiction over such requests. Chief Deputy Secretary of State Kelly Boyd wrote in the letter that the office was only involved in the process for the Ten Commandments statue because the Legislature had "mandated" its placement on the property.

Secretary of state's office spokesman Chris Powell said the Universal Society of Hinduism was the only group that sent a formal proposal for a statue. He said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also submitted an idea, but it violates state policies.

"That was for a banner they wanted to hang across the front of the Capitol that would have said, 'Give peas a chance,'" Powell said. "I don't know if we answered that request, but in the picture it would have taken up half of the columns. It violated our display policy."

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.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court outlawed a similar Ten Commandments display from appearing at its Capitol in late June. The Satanic Temple, which advocates for the separation of church and state, had been pushing for an 8½-foot-tall bronze statue of Baphomet, which depicts Satan as a goat-headed figure with horns, hooves, wings and a beard, at the Oklahoma Capitol.

After the Oklahoma justices ruled, the group said it was turning its gaze toward Arkansas. But Powell said the secretary of state's office had not received a formal request from the group.