Appeals Court Affirms That Ten Commandments Monument Outside NM Municipal Building is Illegal November 11, 2016

Appeals Court Affirms That Ten Commandments Monument Outside NM Municipal Building is Illegal

In 2007, Bloomfield (New Mexico) City Council member Kevin Mauzy proposed that citizens should be allowed to put a Ten Commandments monument in front of the city’s municipal building. The council accepted his proposal, even though nothing happened at the time. That proposal became a reality in 2011, after Mauzy was no longer on the council. The five-foot-tall granite monument was privately paid for and erected by July 4 of that year.

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But a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of two local Wiccans put a stop to that. District Court Judge James A. Parker ruled in 2014 that the monument violated the Establishment Clause. He added:

From the beginning, Mr. Mauzy signaled to the public the connection in his mind between the Ten Commandments monument project and the Christian community by fundraising through local churches exclusively, rather than through a variety of local civic organizations. Mr. Mauzy further underscored the religious nature of the Ten Commandments monument through his planning and organization of a dedication ceremony, which had numerous religious components.

Mauzy turned out to be his own worst enemy. Judge Parker even made this point:

While Mr. Mauzy testified that he erected the Ten Commandments monument for “historical” instead of “religious” purposes, Mr. Mauzy’s religious statements have thoroughly eclipsed his putative “historical” message.

Parker included a footnote shortly after that, which pointed out another misstep by Mauzy:

At trial Mr. Mauzy testified that he views this lawsuit as an attack on his religious freedom, thereby reaffirming the impression that the Ten Commandments monument was meant to communicate a religious message.

Not only did the judge rip apart every one of Mauzy’s arguments, he even suggested all the ways Mauzy could’ve kept his monument if only he and his lawyers weren’t so dumb.

For example, had the Ten Commandments monument been established last in the series of monuments, after placement of the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, and Bill of Rights monuments, the First Amendment may not have been offended. Had the Ten Commandments monument been arranged at the rear of the north lawn near the municipal building complex, with the other three monuments (consisting of six tablets) in front of it, the Ten Commandments monument may have passed muster. Had the Ten Commandments monument been installed without a dedication event or with a ceremony absent religious overtones, the ultimate conclusion may have differed. Had the City of Bloomfield adopted the amended policy permitting monuments first, with language clearly allowing only temporary residence of a monument, the result might have changed. Any variation in the many factors in this proceeding could favor the Defendant instead of the Plaintiffs. Nevertheless, the Court decides that the legal precedent, by which it is constrained, mandates a ruling that the Bloomfield Ten Commandments monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The decision was eventually appealed, and there was some good news this week. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that this was nothing but a religious monument, affirming that it violated the Constitution.

The apparent purpose and context of the Monument’s installation would give an objective observer the impression of official religious endorsement. In arriving at this conclusion, we examine the text of the Monument, its placement on the lawn, the circumstances of its financing and installation, and the timing of this litigation.

The city and its lawyers may appeal to the Supreme Court, but it seems unlikely the justices would take the case for no other reason than they’ve ruled on this sort of thing before.

It’s a tremendous victory for church/state separation and another reminder that the Ten Commandments are not the basis for our nation’s laws.

(via Religion Clause. Portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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