church and state hi res_newWritten by Don Byrd

A federal judge in New Mexico has ruled unconstitutional a Ten Commandments monument displayed on the front lawn of a Bloomfield City municipal building. Calling it a “difficult borderline case,” the court found the facts weighed against the city’s position that the display was primarily of historical, not religious significance.

Here are some key excerpts from the court’s church-state analysis:

There is a fine line between (1) acknowledging the secular significance of the role the Ten Commandments have played in this country’s heritage and (2) making a religiously-charged statement about what the values of a city, state, or locale ought to be. The first is permissible under the Establishment Clause while the second is not. . . .

Furthermore . . . the Bloomfield Ten Commandments granite monument was (1) recently erected, (2) in face of controversy, (3) originally in isolation, and (4) was only later joined by other monuments. The Court is not aware of any recent court of appeals decision upholding a Ten Commandments display as being consistent with the Establishment Clause under these circumstances.

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 . . .  arranged at the rear of the north lawn near the municipal building complex . . .[or]  installed without a dedication event or with a ceremony absent religious overtones, the ultimate conclusion may have differed.

You can read the opinion here. According to this Albuquerque Journal report, the court ordered the monument removed by September 10. The City has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.