U.S. Supreme Court declines Ten Commandments case
FARMINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case about whether the Ten Commandments monument in front of Bloomfield City Hall constitutes the city government endorsing a religion.
The City Council will have a closed executive session at the end of Monday's meeting to discuss the options for the Ten Commandments monument, according to City Manager Eric Strahl.
City attorney Ryan Lane said the monument does not belong to the city and Bloomfield will have to work with the owner to have it removed.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit group that is representing Bloomfield in the case, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case in July. The U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision this morning. Because the high court declined the case, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the monument should be removed will remain.
Previous lower court decisions have ruled that the monument is a form of government endorsement of religion and that it must be removed.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jonathan Scruggs said Bloomfield will comply with the district court order to remove the monument.
Andrew Schultz, a lawyer representing the ACLU in the case, said the plaintiffs will confer with the city about how it will comply with a 2014 judge's order that the monument be removed.
Scruggs said it is rare for the U.S. Supreme Court to grant petitions like Bloomfield's and the court does not give explanations about why it declines a case.
He said there is confusion about Ten Commandments monuments. In some instances, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Ten Commandments monument may remain on public property while in other cases it has ruled that the monument must be removed.
Scruggs said the Alliance Defending Freedom hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually take a case and clarify when the monuments can remain.
"We thought this was the right case," he said.
The monument was placed outside of City Hall in 2011 on a lawn the city set aside for monuments that reflect the city's history and heritage. It was the first monument displayed on the lawn and has since been joined by other monuments including the Gettysburg Address, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. There is a disclaimer on the lawn and on the monument stating that it was donated by and does not represent the views of the city.
Shortly after the monument was installed, pagan residents filed a lawsuit through the American Civil Liberties Union to have it removed.
When the city filed its petition with the Supreme Court in July, the lawyers argued that various circuit courts are using different standards to evaluate monuments like the Ten Commandments monument in Bloomfield. The petition also asked for clarification about whether people can challenge a monument using the Establishment Clause "simply because they are offended by a monument."
Strahl said Bloomfield is disappointed with the decision.
"We felt that it was a decent case in terms of the fact that it related to historical documents and it wasn't really a religious issue from our standpoint," he said.
Strahl said the country was founded on religious principles.
"We took the stance that it was part of the country's heritage," he said.
In a press release, the ACLU praised the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.
"This is a victory for the religious liberty of people everywhere," said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson in a press release. "The Supreme Court’s decision to let the rulings against the monument stand sends a strong message that the government should not be in the business of picking and choosing which sets of religious beliefs enjoy special favor in the community. To be clear, we would defend the right of any church, homeowner or business to raise this monument on their own property. But we cannot tolerate a city government using tax payer dollars to fund a monument that celebrates one religion above all others."
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.