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Supreme Court won't hear Bloomfield Ten Commandments case

J.R. Oppenheim and Meg Hilling
October 16, 2017 06:55 PM

BLOOMFIELD, N.M. -- A Four Corners city lost its last opportunity to keep a Ten Commandments monument at City Hall when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

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The nation's highest court on Monday denied a writ of certiorari, which is a request to hear the case. The decision essentially ends the legal battle for the city to keep the monument that sits on the City Hall lawn.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals late last year upheld a lower court ruling ordering the city to remove the monument, saying it is unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. The clause prohibits the government from establishing a religion or favoring one religion over another.

"This is a victory for the religious liberty of people everywhere,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico. "The Supreme Court’s decision to let the rulings against the monument stand sends a strong message that the government should not be in the business of picking and choosing which sets of religious beliefs enjoy special favor in the community."

The U.S. Supreme Court did not write an opinion why it denied the review. The court has discretion whether or not to specify why it denies a writ of certiorari.

Bloomfield City Manager of Bloomfield Eric Strahl said an executive meeting of the city council members will take place next Tuesday night. During this meeting, council members will have the opportunity to discuss with the city’s attorneys what legal steps will be taken next.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization, opposed the Supreme Court's denial to hear the case.

"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,'" ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said. "We hope the court will take advantage of a future case to resolve the confusion that reigns in the lower courts on this issue."

"To be clear, we would defend the right of any church, homeowner or business to raise this monument on their own property," Simonson added. "But we cannot tolerate a city government using taxpayer dollars to fund a monument that celebrates one religion above all others."No effort will be made to remove the monument before that meeting.

According to Strahl, the goal of allowing residents to place monuments on the lawn was to honor and remember the history of the city and United States.

"The reason behind filing the request to the Supreme Court to hear the case was that the city does not believe it is a religious issue," he said. "We are not taking one particular religion and trying to promote it."

Some residents voiced frustration over the outcome.

"It goes with all religions with it. It’s basic rules," Sherry Gallegos said. "The only reason that they are having us remove it is because of the word 'God' in it. And it’s time that Christians step up and protest on it because this is an infringement upon our rights.”

Credits

J.R. Oppenheim and Meg Hilling

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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