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.
In 2011, Mauzy was no longer on the council… and he suggested putting a Ten Commandments monument in front of the city’s municipal building. (Isn’t that convenient?) The five-foot-tall granite monument was privately paid for and erected by July 4 of that year.
But thanks to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of two local Wiccans, that monument won’t be there much longer. District Court Judge James A. Parker ruled on Thursday that the monument violated the Establishment Clause, adding:
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.
It’s great to see a judge toss aside the argument that a Ten Commandments display is “historical” when it’s clearly all about promoting religion. At the end of the ruling, Parker explained all the ways this monument could’ve been allowed:
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.
Good thing Mauzy didn’t have the sense to surround the Ten Commandments with other actually historical displays.
The City of Bloomfield has until September 10 to remove the monument. They have 30 days to file an appeal, but it’s hard to envision a scenario in which they’d win. At this point, they’d just be wasting city resources.
The ACLU of New Mexico’s Executive Director Peter Simonson explained that this was a victory for everybody because it protected the First Amendment and even offered a classy adieu to the monument:
… the government should not be in the business of picking which sets of religious beliefs belong at city hall. We hope that the Ten Commandments monument will find a new home on private property in the city where people can continue to enjoy it.
Give it to a church. That’s where it belongs and where it should’ve been in the first place.