Last month, a conservative legal group asked the Supreme Court to hear a case involving a Ten Commandments monument outside a municipal building in Bloomfield, New Mexico.
You can read the full backstory here, but here’s the short version: The monument was put up for religious reasons in 2011 and was ruled unconstitutional by multiple courts in subsequent years. City officials later surrounded it with secular displays to deemphasize the whole Christianity thing, but any study of the history of this monument shows it was erected to promote a Christian worldview.
After the most recent loss, attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to take up this case. Specifically they want SCOTUS to answer two questions (I’m paraphrasing): How should the Establishment Clause be applied to passive monuments like this one, and who is allowed to bring forth any lawsuits against them?
The first question was already answered in 2005 — and it also involved Ten Commandments monuments. The Court ruled, in two separate decisions, that a stand-alone Ten Commandments monument was illegal since it was a clear promotion of Christianity, but the same monument erected as part of a larger display of, say, the history of lawmaking would be just fine.
The Bloomfield display already failed that test, I would say, since it originally went up to promote Christianity. You can’t just paint over it and create a new history after the fact.
That second question, however, is important. Right now, anyone in the community “offended” by the display could theoretically have standing to file a lawsuit and bring it down. The conservative Christians want to eliminate that possibility and make it damn near impossible for anyone to sue over this issue.
That’s what the conservative-leaning Supreme Court may decide if they take up this case.
It’s always a long shot whether the Court will hear any case, but now, a coalition of 23 conservative attorneys general from across the country — led by Ken Paxton of Texas — are asking the Court to take this case and rule on it. They filed an amicus brief late last week.
As far as I can tell, all the attorneys general are Republicans. Governors Matt Bevin (of Kentucky) and Paul LePage (or Maine) — both well known for promoting right-wing causes — are also parties to the amicus brief.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that a passive monument such as a Ten Commandments display, accompanied by other displays acknowledging our nation’s religious heritage, are not an establishment of religion,” Attorney General Paxton said. “Governments shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply because a few people claim they are offended by it.”
Specifically, the brief urges the Court to rule that someone who thinks a particular display is unconstitutional would not be able to sue over it. Instead, they argue, all that should matter is whether the government is coercing people to support or participate in a religion. A passive Ten Commandments monument wouldn’t do that, so it would be legal.
By that logic, though, local governments could have a Christian pastor give a prayer every week, put up a Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn, celebrate Easter, and promote Christianity in any number of ways. An official would just have to say something like, “No one has to participate in this,” and the city would be off the hook. It’s an absurd way to interpret the law.
Hopefully, the Court will dismiss the brief and let the lower courts’ rulings stand.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)