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Religious posting must go, judge says

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

BLOOMFIELD, N.M. — A federal judge on Thursday ruled that a New Mexico city must remove a monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments from the lawn in front of Bloomfield City Hall.

Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker said in his ruling in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that the monument amounts to government speech and has the “principal effect of endorsing religion.”

Because of the context and history surrounding the granite monument, Parker said Bloomfield clearly violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. He gave a Sept. 10 deadline for its removal.

The suit was filed in 2012 on behalf of two Bloomfield residents who practice the Wiccan religion.

Peter Simonson, ACLU of New Mexico executive director, called the decision a victory for protection against government-supported religion.

“We firmly support the right of individuals, religious groups, and community associations to publicly display religious monuments, but the government should not be in the business of picking which sets of religious beliefs belong at City Hall,” Simonson said Friday.

According to previous court testimony, plaintiff Jane Felix said the display “says that anybody who doesn't agree with this monument on city grounds is an outsider.”

“It has no place on City Hall property,” Felix said in March.

City attorneys say private individuals erected and paid for the monument under a 2007 city resolution. That resolution allows people to erect historical monuments of their choosing.

Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein said he was surprised the judge would rule against “a historical document.”

“The intent from the beginning was that the lawn was going to be used for historical purposes, and that's what the council voted on,” Eckstein told the Daily Times.

The city has 30 days to file an appeal. City attorney Ryan Lane said he will review the opinion and tell the city council if there is basis for one.

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