Two Cities, Two Ten Commandments Monuments Controversies

There’s often a lot of controversy when government bodies display the Ten Commandments. This has been the case in two cities recently.

We’ll start with the good news. In Bloomfield, N.M., the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is  unconstitutional to display a Ten Commandments monument on the Bloomfield’s City Hall lawn since it violates the First Amendment’s ban on “establishment” of religion.

This was a clear violation of church-state separation since erecting a religious monument on the City Hall lawn sends a message that government is endorsing or favoring religion. That’s not the government’s job.   

The court agreed, noting in its opinion that “any reasonable and objective observer would glean an apparent religious motivation from these circumstances.”

The city of Bloomfield, represented by Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), argued that this wasn’t a church-state separation issue because the monument wasn’t taxpayer-funded and because there are “a few secular monuments” in the city.

The court was right to find this argument flawed. Sure, perhaps Bloomfield has other monuments, but those “few secular monuments” weren’t on the City Hall lawn – a religious one was. Diverting attention away from that doesn’t help.

Additionally, when the Bloomfield City Council originally approved the placement of a Ten Commandments display per the request of a former city council member, church donations helped fund it. I doubt they did that for secular reasons.    

These monuments have no place on government property. 

The case originally began in 2012, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of two residents who practice the Wiccan religion and said they were offended by the monument.

“Bloomfield shouldn’t be in the business of deciding which set of beliefs should be favored from among the diverse religious traditions and beliefs held by its citizens,” Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU of New Mexico, told the Associated Press.

While this ruling is good news for now, the ADF says it might file an appeal.

And as one U.S. city moves forward by perhaps taking down a Ten Commandments monument, another moved backward by restoring it. In Somersworth, N.H., a Ten Commandments monument has been once again erected next to a City Hall.

The monument, which was gifted to the city in 1958 but had been knocked down in August, was restored via private donations.

Although Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard insists that the display doesn’t violate church-state separation, given the location of the monument, some folks in town may disagree. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this matter end up in court.  

Bottom line: The Ten Commandments are a religiously inspired code of behavior. It’s fine to display them at houses of worship. They don’t belong at the seat of government.