Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Bloomfield, NM citizens who seek the removal of the Ten Commandments monument prominently displayed on the city hall lawn. The lawsuit alleges that the monument is a government endorsement of religion and violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as the New Mexico State Constitution.
“Individuals, religious communities, and religious associations should be free to post the Ten Commandments as they wish, and the ACLU will defend their right to do so,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “But the government should not decide which religious doctrines it favors and then post them on government property. Government should stay out of the business of religion and avoid choosing some religious beliefs over others.”
Beginning in 2007, Bloomfield political leaders began a campaign to circumvent the laws that prohibit government sponsored religious monuments. The city council, on the instigation of then councilor Kevin Mauzy, adopted a resolution allowing for private donation of a Ten Commandments monument to be displayed on the city hall lawn. In July 2011, despite voiced objections from concerned community members, former city councilor Mauzy and his associates erected a large monument featuring the Ten Commandments near the entrance to city hall. On July 4th, Mauzy presided over a religious and patriotic themed dedication ceremony.
In the complaint, the ACLU of New Mexico shows that the City of Bloomfield accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation. Public records requests also reveal that Mauzy sought and received legal advice on the monument from the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that often advocates for the merging of government and religion.
“The problem when government endorses religion is that it inevitably favors one set of beliefs to the disregard of all others,” said ACLU Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives. “In this case, Bloomfield has concluded that the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments is superior to the Catholic and Jewish versions. Government shouldn’t put itself in the position of having to discriminate in that way. By staying out of matters of faith, Government gives all religions an equal chance to thrive in our country. That was the purpose of the religious liberty clauses in the First Amendment.”
As recently as 2009, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals—which governs New Mexico—ordered Haskell County, Oklahoma to remove a similar Ten Commandments monument from the county courthouse grounds, saying that a “reasonable observer” would conclude that the monument was an endorsement of religion. The county’s defense of the monument cost local taxpayers $200,000 in legal fees.
Read the ACLU of New Mexico’s full legal complaint: Felix v. Bloomfield (PDF).