The lawsuit, filed Wednesday on behalf of Jane Felix and B.N. Coone, alleges the monument is a government endorsement of religion and violates the First Amendment and the state constitution.
The Bloomfield City Council in 2007 approved a resolution to allow the monument to be funded privately and erected on city property. The process was instigated by Kevin Mauzy, who at the time served on the Council.
Despite objections from some citizens, including a petition and various letters presented to the Council, the monument was installed July 4, 2011.
The 19-page ACLU complaint names the city of Bloomfield, Mayor Scott Eckstein and councilors Matt Pennington, Curtis Lynch and Pat Lucero as defendants. Because they voted to approve an agenda item acknowledging the monument's placement, they are being sued in their official capacities and as individuals.
According to the complaint, Felix believes the monument "represents only one religious point of view and therefore sends a message of exclusion to those who do not adhere to that particular religion."
Coone believes the monument "shows that the city favors the Christian religion and supports Christianity over other religions. He believes that the city's display violates the U.S. Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution," the
In addition to First Amendment issues, the complaint alleges that the city disregarded many ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate installation of the monument.
"When a permanent monument is placed on government property, that represents government speech, and the Supreme Court has ruled that there cannot be a religious display on government property," said Peter Simonson, executive director for the New Mexico ACLU. "This is a particular instance where they expressed an endorsement of one religion to the exclusion of all others, and the city should not put itself in the position to discriminate against other religions."
If the city allowed monuments representing other religions, that could change the situation, Simonson said.
"If the city was open to displays of all faiths, it might change the situation over time, but the city has already indicated that it has limited space available on the city hall lawn, and there are many ordinances required before a monument can be placed," Simonson said. "They did not enforce these ordinances when this monument was installed. We believe this disregard for placement strictures supports our argument that the city greased the wheels and turned a blind eye to policies to get this particular monument erected. I doubt other monuments would similarly be allowed to bypass the same strictures."
The ACLU found curious the placement of the Declaration of Independence monument, installed in November at the back of the lawn, Simonson said. The fact that the Ten Commandments monument was placed prominently at the front fits into the city's strategy to "thumb their nose" at opposition, he said.
Lynne Raner, who was serving on the Council when the monument was approved and installed, is not named in the lawsuit. Simonson said the ACLU is only naming the sitting councilors as defendants as they are the ones who currently have decision-making power.
The monument has caused controversy throughout the community and within the city's administration.
Former parks director Bob Carman, who was fired last July and since was charged with one count of embezzlement, claims the city retaliated against him after he voiced concerns about not being consulted prior to the monument's installation.
Issues such as the underground sprinkler system were not taken into account, Carman said. When he expressed concern about this, he became a target for retaliation, he said.
City Manager David Fuqua in December denied that Carman's termination and embezzlement investigation had anything to do with his statements about the monument.
When reached by phone Thursday, both Eckstein and City Attorney Ryan Lane declined to comment on the lawsuit, as they had not yet received official notice or seen the complaint.
"I've also been advised to not comment publicly about pending litigation," Eckstein said.