BLOOMFIELD, N.M. — Officials with a city in New Mexico are continuing their fight to defend a Ten Commandments monument displayed on the grounds of city hall, which has thus far been declared unconstitutional by both a federal district court and an appeals court.
On Monday, the Bloomfield City Council voted in favor of city attorney Ryan Lane’s recommendation that Bloomfield seek a review from the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, known as an en banc session. The vote was unanimous, minus the presence of one council member.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, many residents in the small 7,000-member city have supported the monument, placing Ten Commandments yard signs in their lawns. A prayer gathering was also held last month around the Decalogue.
“We need to stand up for God, and then he will bless us,” Anne Frost of Farmington, just outside of Bloomfield, said at a recent city hall meeting. “We need to eliminate this silliness of Church versus State.”
As previously reported, the monument at issue had been erected in 2011 following a resolution allowing private citizens to place historical displays at Bloomfield City Hall. A former city council member had proposed the monument four years prior, which was then approved by city council but paid for with private money.
“Presented to the people of San Juan County by private citizens recognizing the significance of these laws on our nation’s history,” the monument read, which was unveiled during a special ceremony on Independence Day 2011.
But Wiccans Jane Felix and Buford Coone of the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage felt offended by the monument and contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for assistance.
“Our clients who are not Christians, they took issue with this and it made them feel alienated from their community,” Alexandra Smith, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, told local television station KRQE.
The organization filed a lawsuit against the city in 2012, asserting that the monument’s presence on government property amounts to the government endorsement of religion. While the city argued before the court that the monument was historical in nature, the ACLU contended that the content of the Commandments themselves is blatantly religious.
“One of the commandments is thou shalt put no gods before me. This is clearly not a historical document, but is in fact religious doctrine,” Smith stated.
In August 2014, U.S. District Judge James Parker, nominated to the bench by then-President Ronald Reagan, sided with the Wiccans, declaring that the Decalogue violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“In view of the circumstances surrounding the context, history, and purpose of the Ten Commandments monument, it is clear that the City of Bloomfield has violated the Establishment Clause because its conduct in authorizing the continued display of the monument on City property has had the primary or principal effect of endorsing religion,” he wrote.
The city appealed, and last month, the 10th Circuit upheld Parker’s ruling, stating that the addition of historical monuments adjacent to the Ten Commandments did not fix the constitutional infirmities.
“[I]t was especially inadequate here because of the plain religious motivations apparent from the approval (approved alone), financing (sponsored entirely by churches), and unveiling (ceremony rife with Christian allusions) of the Monument,” the three-judge panel wrote.
“In light of those considerations, and the situational context of the Ten Commandments on the lawn, the City would have to do more than merely add a few secular monuments in order to signal to objective observers a ‘principal or primary’ message of neutrality,” it concluded. “Because we find an impermissible effect of endorsement that is insufficiently mitigated by curative efforts, we affirm.”
As previously reported, the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Van Orden v. Perry, which upheld a Ten Commandments monument at the Texas state capitol, noted that Decalogue displays are “common throughout America.”
“We need only look within our own courtroom,” the justices wrote. “Since 1935, Moses has stood, holding two tablets that reveal portions of the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew, among other lawgivers in the south frieze.”
“Similar acknowledgments can be seen throughout a visitor’s tour of our nation’s capital. For example, a large statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, alongside a statue of the Apostle Paul, has overlooked the rotunda of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building since 1897,” the decision continued. “And the Jefferson Building’s Great Reading Room contains a sculpture of a woman beside the Ten Commandments with a quote above her from the Old Testament (Micah 6:8).”
“A medallion with two tablets depicting the Ten Commandments decorates the floor of the national archives,” the court outlined. “Inside the Department of Justice, a statue entitled “The Spirit of Law” has two tablets representing the Ten Commandments lying at its feet. In front of the Ronald Reagan Building is another sculpture that includes a depiction of the Ten Commandments.”