If you drive along N.M. 516 between Farmington and Aztec, you are sure to see what some believe is God's message on numerous bill boards. One of our favorites: "Jesus paid, you get the change."
But it was a 3,000-pound granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments on the front lawn of the Bloomfield City Hall that was getting statewide and some national attention earlier this month.
In an Albuquerque courtroom, the American Civil Liberties Union represented two Bloomfield residents who practice the Wiccan religion. They asserted that the location of the monument — which was unveiled during a July 4, 2011, ceremony — is a government endorsement of the Christian faith.
The cases were made and the judge is considering the evidence before making a decision.
Bloomfield officials argued that the monument has historical significance and point to a nearby sign stating that it does not "necessarily reflect the opinions of the city."
By that logic, you could defend greeting City Hall visitors with a monument prominently displaying words from the Quran or numerous other holy books. We don't think any such monuments are appropriate. Government should have no sway over a person's private religious (or non-religious) convictions.
City leaders also pointed to nearby monuments commemorating the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence to reinforce the argument that the monument is historical.
Well, we know the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence were written by Earth-bound humans. The Ten Commandments are the word of God, according to some religions.
And supporters say this country was built on the ideals described in the Ten Commandments, which makes it a part of our history. We aren't going out on a limb when we say we are against murder, adultery, theft, lying or other such bad acts. Or that those prohibitions are the cornerstones of a civilized society.
But we have to point out that the first commandment is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
If that isn't promoting a religion, we don't know what is.
This country has benefited from diversity over the decades. That diversity has given birth to creative approaches to problems. Those uniquely American solutions have come from a blending of the different ways people conceive the world around us.
Despite some claims, the Founding Fathers were not all Christians and there were quite a variety of beliefs among those who were. And there are virtuous citizens in this area who are not Christians.
Don't get us wrong, we think the monument would be fine — on private land.
This is not a call to muzzle religious speech. We support the right of all the property owners along the roads and highways in the Tri-City area to proselytize to their hearts' content. It's free expression and part of the local culture.
But the Ten Commandments monument doesn't belong at the entrance to City Hall.