Less than 24 hours after it was erected, a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas state capitol was destroyed by a 32-year-old man who declared the stone slab violated “the separation of church and state.”
Streaming his misdeed via Facebook Live, Michael Tate Reed drove his 2016 Dodge Dart across the statehouse lawn in darkness early Wednesday and crashed into the 6-foot-tall monument, breaking it into pieces, CNN reported.
Reed was immediately arrested by Capitol police and faces charges of defacing an object of public interest, criminal mischief in the first degree and criminal trespass, the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said.
It wasn’t his first Ten Commandments attack.
In 2014, Reed was arrested for allegedly running over a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol.
The Tulsa World reported that after the 2014 incident, Reed was taken to a hospital where he received mental health treatment. He was never formally charged in the case and was released from the hospital in January 2015 under an agreement for continued treatment.
In a Facebook video Wednesday after he destroyed the Arkansas monument, Tate said: “I’m a firm believer that part of salvation is that we not only have faith in Jesus Christ but that we obey the commands of God and that we confess Jesus as Lord. But one thing I do not support is the violation of our constitutional right … that guarantees the separation of church and state.”
The First Amendment makes no mention of “separation of church and state,” stating: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Defenders of such monuments on state grounds argue the term “separation of church and state” is taken out of context from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson. The simple meaning of the First Amendment, they say, is that the establishment of a state-sponsored religion, such as some European countries still have, is prohibited, noting Congress cannot hinder the “free exercise” of religion.
Courts, however, have interpreted the establishment and free-exercise clauses more narrowly.
Arkansas state lawmakers who approved the monument cited a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision finding a Ten Commandments monument on state grounds in Texas did not violate the First Amendment.
The justices reasoned in the Van Orden vs. Perry case that while the Ten Commandments are religious, they “have an undeniable historical meaning.”
Ten Commandments memorials on state grounds have been a focus of controversy for decades, notably in the case of Roy Moore, whose refusal to remove a monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building resulted in his removal as chief justice of the high court in 2003.
In February, an appeals court refused to rehear a case in which a lower court ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments monument in a New Mexico town. Two dissenting justices on the appeals court contended the U.S. Constitution allows acknowledgement of religion, including religious statements and memorials in the public square.