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Ten Commandments monument case declined by SCOTUS

WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined an opportunity to revisit whether the display of religion-related monuments on government property is against the law.

The court declined without explanation Monday (Oct. 16) to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling against a Ten Commandments monument outside the Bloomfield, N.M., City Hall. In lower courts, two Wiccans represented by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged the five-foot monument, complaining that it constitutes the government’s establishment of religion.

The last time the Supreme Court ruled on a similar case, in 2005, justices said in a 5-4 decision that a granite monument on the lawn of the Texas state capitol in Austin was constitutional, Baptist Press reported in December 2005. That same year the high court ruled 5-4 that the posting of the Ten Commandments inside Kentucky courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties was unconstitutional.

The Bloomfield monument had stood since 2011 in a city beautification program that allows private citizens to fund and erect historical monuments on a designated portion of the City Hall lawn, Bloomfield attorneys Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said at adflegal.org. Monuments honoring the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and the Bill of Rights are also displayed on the City Hall lawn, including names of donors who funded the displays, ADF said.

Religion was not a consideration in choosing to display any of the monuments, Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl told Baptist Press today (Oct. 17).

“The monuments went there originally because they were of a historical significance,” Strahl said. “And since Christianity did play such a big part in the formation and the development of the country, one of the monuments was the Ten Commandments.

“It was a determination, based on the formation of the country and the city, to place the Ten Commandments there,” Strahl said, “and as far as the city is concerned, it wasn’t a religious issue.”

The Bloomfield City Council will discuss what to do with the monument in executive session during its regularly scheduled meeting Oct. 23, Strahl told BP.

“I’m not sure what decision the City Council will ultimately make,” he said, “but I think they’ll be looking at relocating it to a piece of private property, [which] is one option.” The city will likely coordinate with the community group that funded the monument in deciding where to place it, he said, and may also decide whether to relocate all of the monuments to the same location.

The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision regarding Texas made it clear that stone monuments such as the one in Bloomfield are constitutional, the ADF said. Rather, several subsequent and contrary lower court rulings have created confusion by “erroneously … giving standing for so-called offended observers — plaintiffs who allege no more than ‘being exposed to a state symbol that offends his belief,'” the ADF said, quoting Bloomfield’s appeal in the case.

Hopefully, the court will take advantage of future opportunities to clarify the law and discourage improper interpretations, ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said in an Oct. 16 press release.

“Americans shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply to appease someone who is offended by it or who has a political agenda to remove all traces of religion from the public square,” Cortman said. “In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court had the opportunity to affirm, as it recently did, that ‘an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.’ We hope the court will take advantage of a future case to resolve the confusion that reigns in the lower courts on this issue.”

In August, 23 states, 24 members of Congress and various legal experts, religious groups, and others filed briefs supporting Bloomfield and encouraging the high court to hear the case, Bloomfield v. Felix, the ADF said in its release.