Published On: Mon, Oct 23rd, 2017

SCOTUS dodges Ten Commandments case, confusion over monuments will remain

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to weigh in on a Ten Commandments monument that a New Mexico city allowed citizens to place among other historical monuments on public property. In July, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the city had asked the high court to take up the case, City of Bloomfield v. Felix, and resolve confusion among various lower courts on how to implement constitutional standards for such monuments.

photo/ JW1805 wia wikipedia, public domain

In August, 23 states, 24 members of Congress, and a variety of legal experts, religious groups, and others filed briefs in support of the city. Nonetheless, the high court decided not to review a decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit that upheld a district court’s order to remove the monument. A split decision of the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit had declined to reconsider the panel’s opinion.

“Americans shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply to appease someone who is offended by it or who has a political agenda to remove all traces of religion from the public square,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court had the opportunity to affirm, as it recently did, that ‘an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.’ We hope the court will take advantage of a future case to resolve the confusion that reigns in the lower courts on this issue.”

In an effort to commemorate the city’s history and heritage, 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 ones acknowledging the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, and the Ten Commandments. Each monument includes the name of its donors and affirms the document’s significance in American history.

As the city’s petition filed with the Supreme Court in July argued, the high court’s guidance is needed because various circuit courts are using different standards to evaluate whether monuments such as the one in Bloomfield are permissible. In addition, the petition asked the Supreme Court to 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 gave 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. At some point, the court will have another opportunity to accept a case like this and clear up any confusion, and we hope that it will.”

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