U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal of Ruling Declaring Ten Commandments Monument Unconstitutional

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a ruling out of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that declared a New Mexico Ten Commandments monument unconstitutional. Two Wiccan women who took offense at the display had filed suit against the Decalogue placement in 2012, stating that it made them feel “alienated.”

The nation’s highest court gave no reason on Monday for its decision to not to take the case.

“This is a victory for the religious liberty of people everywhere,” Peter Simonson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, remarked in a press release. “The Supreme Court’s decision to let the rulings against the monument stand sends a strong message that the government should not be in the business of picking and choosing which sets of religious beliefs enjoy special favor in the community.”

The ACLU had represented Wiccans Jane Felix and Buford Coone of the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage in its legal challenge against the monument, which has been on display at Bloomfield City Hall since 2011. 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 Decalogue read, which was unveiled during a special ceremony.

Felix and Coone said that they were offended by the monument.

“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.

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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 This is clearly not a historical document, but is in fact religious doctrine,” Smith stated.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 in November, 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.”

The city then sought an en banc, or full appeals court, review of the case, but the request was denied.

More than 20 states and over 20 members of Congress had joined legal briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the nine justices to hear the case, but on Monday the court passed on the matter. Only a few appeals are accepted each year by the nation’s highest court.

The religious liberties organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) expressed disappointment that the case would not have the chance for an appeal.

“Americans shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply to appease someone who is offended by it or who has a political agenda to remove all traces of religion from the public square,” remarked ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman in a statement.

“In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court had the opportunity to affirm, as it recently did, that ‘an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.’ We hope the court will take advantage of a future case to resolve the confusion that reigns in the lower courts on this issue,” he said.

City Attorney Ryan Lane told the Daily Times that Bloomfield will now work with the private entity that placed the monument to have it removed.

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  • Reason2012

    So apparently this judge things laws can be passed prohibiting the free exercise of religion, only allowing it where people like him give permission. Another judge that doesn’t know the Constitution of the United States of America.

    • Bob Johnson

      Actually not only this judge but the other 11 judges on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declined a full court review and then the nine judges on the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. So all told, this is more like 20 judges collectively sighed and said “No.”

    • chronicintel

      “Yet again another liberal anti-Constitution judge that doesn’t know the Constitution of the United States of America”

      From the article:

      “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.”

      Not only that, but the current conservative-majority SCOTUS won’t even bother to hear the appeal because the Ten Commandments is blatantly unconstitutional when it is sitting on public grounds by itself.

      • Reason2012

        Please show how this violates the Constitution. No law was passed forcing it to be there, so the Constitution was not violated. Likewise it cannot be illegal either, which they’re trying to claim it is, which IS the violation. Who is is that is wrong on the issue is irrelevant – even a “conservative” SC justice lied and claimed Obamacare was Constitutional because it was a tax when it was clearly indicated to be a fine.

        • chronicintel

          The point of the 1st Amendment is for the government to maintain neutrality when it comes to all matters of religion. Just like the constitution doesn’t have any provisions that explicitly says you can’t kill another person, but is implied that such matters is up to the states, so it is also implied that the government cannot endorse a religious viewpoint.

          If local governments are seen promoting a religious viewpoint, then a judge would rightly conclude it goes against the intention of the Establishment Cause.

          Granted, I’m not a lawyer and I pulled most of that out of my ass, but I’m basing it on what the Constitution intended to convey in the 1st Amendment, and rulings by justices in other states.

          “Who is is that is wrong on the issue is irrelevant”

          Then why did you bring up the perceived liberal bias of the judge?

        • Trilemma

          The city council had to pass a number of laws to get the monument placed on public property at the city hall. In passing those laws, the city council violated the establishment clause.

          • Reason2012

            Did it pass laws saying only Christian monument gets placed there, or a RELIGIOUS monument gets placed there? If the law was Christian monument and not others, then yes, that would be a violation.

  • swek

    Religion is a private matter
    You can peddle your religion on private property
    When you put your religion in a public space with public support, you are directly spitting at the constitution which has kept us together for 220 years

    • Jack Lee

      Your ignorance is showing. The Constitution was written based on the BIBLE, book of Deuteronomy. You have no idea what you are saying!!!

    • Matilde Tavares

      The 10 commandments are standards set for a lawful society , not necessarily a religious one; nothing stopped Wiccan from practicing their wiccanness..,
      Pathetic wasted money is spent of taxpayers for this kind of case!

      • Lexical Cannibal

        “I am the LORD your God, you shall have mo other gods before me.”

        If that were literal US law, I think that would stop a few Wiccans.

  • The Skeptical Chymist

    Exactly the correct decision. If you want to erect a monument to your particular religion, do it on your own property.

    • Jack Lee

      Why is “In God we trust” on your money then?

      • Lexical Cannibal

        Because in 1956, the 84th US Congress was looking for ways to differentiate itself from the Soviet Union, and so passed a law declaring it our national motto and that it must be printed on all currency. Further, the motto has largely had to retreat to the argument that the “god” referenced in the motto is not any single deity, but god in the sense of the non-sectarian, deist concept; adamantly not exclusively Christian, but representative of the freedom of all faiths and beliefs in America. That said, I think you and I would both agree that this is a lie.

  • Matilde Tavares

    The 10 commandments are the bedrock principles of Ronan Law. So now that is not offensive? Should we let Thieves, etc just go free, & all other law breakers be “free” to live in lawless fashion? Should we endorse that ? What will happen to Legal system?

    • Lexical Cannibal

      This argument’s a total nonstarter, unfortunately. Not only are many of these commandments generally agreed upon regardless of the “big ten’s” existence (Hammurabi’s code forbade stealing and killing, for instance), but it’s also still possible to disagree with something without finding every part of it objectionable. E.g., I find Nazism detestable in all forms, but find the Third Reich’s policy towards ending animal abuse remarkably progressive for its time.

      To the matter at hand; I don’t anyone is arguing that we should ditch rules against killing or stealing. That’s stupid and reductive. It’s really more that “have no other gods” bit that’s the sticking point for most other folk.

  • peanut butter

    Sell the person who placed it there the tiny piece of land it sits on for one dollar then refuse to sell any more land. Problem solved.

  • Eldrida Urika

    So, I’m curious. What ever happened to ignoring things you don’t appreciate. Like clicking on a different link because the one you are reading in anti-everything.
    In my day, we didn’t have the internet and we had to read things in magazines and newspapers full of advertising. We learned that when an ad was offensive that we could turn the page and just not look at it.
    We learned with TV we could (eventually) mute the commercials that we didn’t want to hear (or didn’t want the children to hear)
    Why does someone who says they are offended not just look the other way? If they don’t believe or whatever, just do not look. It caused a lot less problems then.

    I don’t understand how someone can feel alienated by something they don’t have to look at. It’s obviously there for someone else.

    If you don’t believe, why does someone elses belief bother you at all? Christians should not bother the non-believers about not believing, why can non-believers complain about Christians believers.

    Majority rules or minority rules shouldn’t be necessary if people would just walk away without looking at them. Look at the beauty around them instead of something that offends them.

    There are plenty of secular verses that could be put up for anyone who is not a believer. and it’s already a law that any ‘religion’ may put up their own display if requested. Why does it have to be one display? Having other displays give the people who are offended the ability to choose not to look at the one, and enjoy the other, just as Christians enjoy ours.

    I just do not understand why people just can’t allow each other to have beliefs and leave them to it.

    Religion is a private matter. yes it is, but there is no reason that it has to be the only thing Peddling anything. Everyone is allowed to peddle their beliefs even those who have none. That’s ok according to the constitution as the condition that Christian displays are in controversy because it is not One Religion.

    Besides that it is a very controversial question about the word Establishment. Besides, although it is your belief that it is like spitting at the constitution is just like a religious belief. You are welcome to it, but you should not be putting others beliefs down if you want to post your own belief. State that you don’t agree, but there is no need to treat us all like we are jumping on this bandwagon because not all Christians agree with leaving their displays in public places.
    You really need to take a chill pill and not attack one group as if everyone is the same about everything. It’s called discrimination. It’s like saying Mexicans love taco’s when not all Mexicans actually do like taco’s. So please don’t be rude to all Christians before you even find out what the view really is. OK? Thanks. Have a good day!