Ten Commandments hearing will be Wednesday

Hannah Grover
  • Last year, Bloomfield appealed a federal judge's ruling that the monument was unconstitutional
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit will hear arguments at 9 a.m. Wednesday
  • Plaintiffs claim Ten Commandments monument is a religious icon supporting the Judeo-Christian faith

FARMINGTON — The City of Bloomfield is hoping the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit will reverse last year's ruling that displaying a Ten Commandments monument on the City Hall lawn is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Denver, Colo.

The Ten Commandments monument has been controversial since it was first proposed. In 2007, about four years before it was installed on the City Hall lawn, residents signed a petition opposing the monument, but it was dedicated on July 4, 2011. In February 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of two local residents. In August 2014, a federal judged ruled that the Ten Commandments monument be removed from the lawn by Sept. 10, 2014. Later that month, the city of Bloomfield appealed that ruling.

Plaintiff Janie Felix, who is hopeful that the appeals court will uphold the ruling, said she was not surprised it was appealed.

"I think that the judge considered it very seriously," she said.

The city is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit Christian organization in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Americans shouldn't be forced to censor religion's role in history simply to appease someone's political agenda," Jonathan Scruggs, the legal counsel, said in a statement issued Tuesday morning. "We hope the 10th Circuit will affirm, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently did, that adults 'often encounter speech they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out anytime a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.'"

Scruggs was quoting a 2014 ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court in the Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et. al.

The town of Greece opened board meetings with a prayer and several residents filed suit, requesting that the town limit the prayers to an inclusive generic god. In its opinion the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Greece had not violated the First Amendment because it did not "coerce participation by nonadherents" and because opening meetings with prayer "comports with our tradition."

The Alliance Defending Freedom will use that case and others to argue in favor of the city of Bloomfield's decision to place the monument on the lawn.

Monuments honoring the Bill of Rights, Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence were placed on the City Hall lawn afterward.

While the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address both mention God, the plaintiffs do not oppose them because they are not part of a religious text, while the Ten Commandments were copied out of the Bible. By positioning a passage from the Bible in front of the City Hall, the plaintiffs claim the city is endorsing Judeo-Christian religion.

"I feel like separation of church and state has been proven necessary," Felix said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

The Ten Commandments monument is seen  in August 2014 at Bloomfield City Hall.
The Ten Commandments monument is seen in March 2014 in front of Bloomfield City Hall.