BLOOMFIELD — City councilors unanimously voted on Wednesday to appeal a federal judge's ruling stating a monument at City Hall inscribed with the Ten Commandments is unconstitutional.

The city plans to appeal the judge's decision to a three-judge panel with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The 10th Circuit has territorial jurisdiction in six states — New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker issued his ruling in the case on Aug. 7. In it, he stated the monument constitutes government speech and endorses a religion. He ordered the monument to be removed by Sept. 10.

The Bloomfield City Council on Wednesday sits in front of attendees during a special meeting at Bloomfield City Hall on whether to appeal a federal
The Bloomfield City Council on Wednesday sits in front of attendees during a special meeting at Bloomfield City Hall on whether to appeal a federal judge's ruling ordering the city to remove a Ten Commandments monument from City Hall. (Alexa Rogals / The Daily Times)

"The city believes the Ten Commandments Historical Monument does not constitute government speech; rather, the city believes it has done nothing more than create a designated public forum in which private citizens have the opportunity to erect historical monuments," said Ryan Lane, the city's attorney, in a written statement provided to The Daily Times after Wednesday's special meeting at City Hall adjourned.

The city has 30 days from the date of the ruling — until Sept. 6 — to file its appeal.

Applause erupted in the council chambers after councillors voted to appeal the decision. Seventeen residents at the meeting spoke in favor of the monument. No one spoke against it or the city's plans to appeal.

Bloomfield resident Robin Glass addressed the council and expressed his support for the monument.

"The majority of our citizens in Bloomfield are Christians and of a Judeo-Christian mindset," Glass said. "Our entire legal system are all laws that are built on the Ten Commandments. It's against the law to kill somebody, it's against the law to steal, it's against the law to commit adultery — you can go right down the list. I think the Ten Commandments are not only a part of the Christian faith, they're a basis of everything and a basis of stability of our entire government and not just in the United States but around the whole entire world."

Jackie Wiebe, also a resident of Bloomfield, advocated residents voting on the issue.

"They have their right to their opinion just like we have a right to ours," Wiebe said in reference to Jane Felix and Buford Coone, two Bloomfield residents who sued the city over the monument. "I believe the people of Bloomfield should vote on this, not some federal court judge. I feel that this is ours, and we should vote on what's ours. If they don't want to read it, they don't have to read it, and if I don't want to read about their religion, I don't have to. That's our choice, and we were given that partly by the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments."

Lynne Raner, a former Bloomfield councilor, asked the council whether a vote by residents would lend support to the city's appeal.

Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein listens to the opinions of community members during a special meeting on Wednesday at Bloomfield City Hall.
Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein listens to the opinions of community members during a special meeting on Wednesday at Bloomfield City Hall. (Alexa Rogals / The Daily Times)

"Unfortunately, the short answer is no," Lane said. "Popular role or the popular vote does not control the constitutionality as far as jurisprudence goes. That's the statues of our law. Even if you held a vote and 99 percent — or even a 100 percent — agreed that we'd like this monument, it would not control (the process)."

Raner also asked how an appeal would affect the city's budget. The city expects to get legal help on its appeal from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"The city will be represented by Alliance Defending Freedom," Lane said. "They helped us during the trial, and they don't charge for attorneys' fees."

This March 13, 2014, file photo shows the Ten Commandments monument at Bloomfield City Hall. The city of Bloomfield is appealing a federal judge’s
This March 13, 2014, file photo shows the Ten Commandments monument at Bloomfield City Hall. The city of Bloomfield is appealing a federal judge's ruling that it remove the monument, which the judges rules endorses a religion. (Daily Times file photo)

The city would, if it loses the appeal, be responsible for paying the plaintiffs' attorney's fees, Lane said.

Bloomfield resident Glen Spencer also spoke during the meeting and said he supports the monument.

"I think there are too few people trying to run things for the majority," Spencer told councilors. "Why should we have a few people causing unrest in this community when we have unrest all over the world and look where the world is at today, from a few people trying to control it. Let's put it to a vote."

Jane Kesterson doesn't live in Bloomfield but showed up at the meeting to show her support.

"Yes, I support the monument. This country and our laws were based on the Bible, and people are turning away from that," said Kesterson, who lives in the community of Spencerville west of Aztec, before the meeting. "The Bible is very clear. It has no gray areas."

Kevin Mauzy, whose group erected the Ten Commandments monument and three other markers on the front lawn at City Hall, attended the meeting but declined to comment.

Mayor Scott Eckstein declined to comment, referring all questions to Lane.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.