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Published On: Mon, Jul 17th, 2017

ADF defends New Mexico town, desire to keep Ten Commandment monument which ‘offends’ atheists

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the city of Bloomfield, New Mexico, asked the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday to take up a case involving a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of Bloomfield’s city hall. In February, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit declined to reconsider a three-judge panel’s decision that upheld a district court’s order to remove the monument.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

In 2012, two local residents, Jane Felix and B.N. Coone, who claimed to be offended by the monument, filed suit through their American Civil Liberties Union attorneys in an attempt to have the monument uprooted.

“Americans shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply to appease someone’s political agenda,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will take this case and affirm, as it recently did, that adults ‘often encounter speech they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.’”

In an effort to beautify the city, Bloomfield officials created a public forum on the City Hall lawn that allows private citizens to pay for and erect historical monuments. Over time, a variety of privately funded monuments were erected, including monuments honoring the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, the Bill of Rights, and the Ten Commandments. Each monument includes the name of the donors and affirms the document’s significance in American history.

As the city’s petition filed in City of Bloomfield v. Felix argues, guidance from the Supreme Court is needed because various circuit courts are using different standards to evaluate whether Ten Commandments monuments such as the one in Bloomfield are permissible. In addition, the Supreme Court should clarify “whether individuals have standing to bring an Establishment Clause challenge simply because they are offended by a monument.”

“Previous Supreme Court decisions appear to have made the answer to that question clear: Simply being offended isn’t a sufficient reason to be able to bring a lawsuit like this,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “This case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to reaffirm that principle and prevent the removal of a monument that stands alongside others in a perfectly acceptable manner.”

Some circuit courts “have allowed standing for so-called offended observers—plaintiffs who allege no more than ‘being exposed to a state symbol that offends his belief…,’” the petition explains. “The Tenth Circuit’s decision exemplifies this erroneous approach. The court of appeals found it sufficient that the monument was ‘visible from a major road’ and caused Plaintiffs to ‘feel excluded’ whenever they drove by the monument or encountered it on a visit to City Hall. But such psychic harm is merely a generalized grievance, insufficient to demonstrate injury in fact…. This petition presents a chance to correct course.”

Attorneys with Wilmar Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP are co-counsel for the city of Bloomfield.

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