City continues Ten Commandments monument lawsuit

Bloomfield wants an "en banc" session, which would ask all of the judges on the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to review the decision made by a panel of three judges last month

Joshua Kellogg
The Bloomfield Ten Commandments is pictured Nov. 10 at Bloomfield City Hall.
  • The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Bloomfield in 2012, claiming a Ten Commandments monument outside City Hall violates residents' religious freedoms.
  • A federal judge in 2014 ruled the monument violated the U.S. Constitution, stating it constituted government speech.
  • Last month, a panel of three judges on the Tenth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the federal judge's decision.
  • A decision regarding the city of Bloomfield's most recent petition could be made in spring or summer next year.

BLOOMFIELD — The city of Bloomfield will petition all of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to review a decision in its lawsuit over the Ten Commandments monument.

At a special council work session tonight, members of the Bloomfield City Council voted in favor of city attorney Ryan Lane’s recommendation to ask for an "en banc" session regarding the case. The motion requests that all active judges on the federal appeals court review the case again.

Councilors DeLaws Lindsay, Elwin Roark and Matt Pennington voted in favor of the recommendation. Councilor Curtis Lynch did not attend the meeting.

A panel of three judges from the federal appeals court ruled on Nov. 9 to uphold a previous decision by a federal judge, which stated that the monument outside City Hall violates the U.S. Constitution.

Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker wrote in his Aug. 7, 2014, opinion that the monument on city property constitutes government speech and is regulated by the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

Roark said after today's meeting that he wanted to hear what all of the judges on the federal appeals court had to say about the case. Shortly after Roark's comment, Lane interrupted the conversation and advised the councilman to refrain from speaking to the media about the case.

Andrew Schultz, an attorney with Rodey Law Firm in Albuquerque, is representing the American Civil Liberties Union, which in 2012 filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of two Wiccan residents who said the 3,000-pound, 6-foot-tall monument violated their religious freedom.

Before today's meeting, Schultz said that regardless of what the city decides, his firm is more than willing and prepared to assert its claims.

"We fully expect any other panel will come to the same conclusion as the four federal judges that have already ruled on this question," Schultz said.

Court rules Bloomfield must remove monument

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is representing the city in the lawsuit pro bono. The group has argued the monument adheres to the city's policies and disclaimers at the site state the city does not endorse the monument.

Lane said the federal appeals court could decline to allow the petition and order a response from the ACLU. If enough judges agree to review the case, there would be another oral argument before the court.

A decision regarding the petition could be made in spring or summer next year, Lane said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.