A federal judge ruled on August 7, 2014 that a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument that on July 4, 2011 was placed on the lawn in front of the city hall of the town of Bloomfield in New Mexico must be removed by September 10, 2014 as a result of suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of two people, one of whom Jane Felix is a Wiccan, a high priestess with the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage.
As judge James A. Parker says in his opinion:
The Ten Commandments monument is government speech regulated by the Establishment Clause because the Ten Commandments monument is a permanent object located on government property and it is not part of a designated public forum open to all on equal terms.
In view of the circumstances surrounding the context, history, and purpose of the Ten Commandments monument, it is clear that the City of Bloomfield has violated the Establishment Clause because its conduct in authorizing the continued display of the monument on City property has had the primary or principal effect of endorsing religion. (p. 31)
The defendants argued that because the City Council had established guidelines for the construction of monuments on the lawn, and that there were three other monuments there as well (commemorating the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, and the Bill of Rights), the lawn had become a public forum and hence that the monument did not represent government endorsed speech and was thus not subject to Establishment Clause restrictions.
But the judge rejected that saying that permanent monuments erected on public land are best considered government speech and that the history of its erection and its prominence, and the city’s unwavering support for it, would send the message to a reasonable and objective observer that it had an official religion intent.
The judge rightly said that deciding Establishment Clause cases had become difficult because of the variety of Supreme Court rulings on such cases leading to lack of clear guidelines for judges. The judge emphasized how Supreme Court precedents required a very close analysis of the actual facts of each case and that if the facts of this case had been slightly different, the ruling could have gone the other way.
As noted in the proem, the Court considers this to be a very close case. The result could differ with a slight change in the facts. 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. (p. 30-32)
This kind of delicate maneuvering through the facts of each case is a consequence of the mess that the Supreme Court has created in its desire to not strictly enforce the wall of separation between church and state but to allow space for some governmental expressions of religion.
The mayor of the city says he is ‘shocked’ by the ruling. Other members of the community, such as Denise Lovato are, as usual, shocked, just shocked, that the majority is not allowed to do what it wants.
“When I read the news, I was blown away, and I thought, ‘This is the United States.’ And it affects all of us. It’s just crazy to me that a few people can have something go against what the majority want,” Lovato said by phone on Friday. “The majority of the people want it there. If I see something I don’t like, I wouldn’t look at it. That’s part of what this country’s founded on. It’s not trying to shove religion down someone’s throat.”
Don’t these people learn about the US constitution in high school?
The defendants have 30 days to appeal the ruling.
(Via Darren Smith.)