Court rules Bloomfield must remove religious monument
FARMINGTON — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a federal judge's ruling that a Ten Commandments monument erected in 2011 outside of Bloomfield City Hall violates the U.S. Constitution.
The court of appeals ruled Wednesday that the monument would be seen by an objective observer as a religious endorsement by Bloomfield's government.
The monument was first proposed by Kevin Mauzy in 2007. Mauzy, who was serving as city councilor at the time, collected donations to pay for the monument. The monument received its final approval in 2011, when Mauzy was no longer a city councilor. Within a year of the monument’s unveiling, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of two Wiccan residents.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the decision,” said Jonathan Scruggs, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based nonprofit Christian organization representing the city.
Scruggs said the Alliance Defending Freedom and Bloomfield are evaluating options, including appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mayor Scott Eckstein said the city has not decided if it will appeal.
"We obviously will defend our clients' position in any court," said Andy Schultz, an attorney with Rodey Law Firm in Albuquerque who represented the ACLU in the case.
Schultz said the lawsuit must be examined in context of the history of the monument. Prior to the construction of the monument, there was nothing on the lawn outside of the city hall. A formal policy regarding such displays was adopted months after the Bloomfield City Council approved the monument.
Scruggs and city officials have argued that the policy allows any resident to erect a historical monument.
“It’s in black and white ink,” he said. “Anyone could go and read it.”
The court ruled that monuments at City Hall — which now include the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence — are government speech because they are permanent displays on city property.
Scruggs argues that disclaimers at the site state that the city does not endorse the monument.
"The city is not playing favorites here,” Scruggs argued. “It’s allowing anyone to erect a monument on the lawn as long as it’s historical.”
The court ruled the disclaimers — an engraving on the monument and a sign — are not enough.
In the ruling, the court states that "a reasonable observer might have to get on his knees and inspect closely" to read the disclaimer engraved on the monument. The court compared the disclaimer to "rapid-fire warnings at the end of prescription drug commercials, where it is obvious the company has slipped them in as a barely audible afterthought just to comply with the rules."
The court also ruled that a disclaimer sign on the lawn does not negate the religious message communicated by the monument and the presence of other monuments is not enough to mitigate it.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.