Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Commandments Bust Put to 10th Circuit

DENVER (CN) - Hoping to resurrect a bust of the Ten Commandments outside a New Mexico city hall, an attorney assured the 10th Circuit on Wednesday that there is no conspiracy.

"There is no reason to doubt our good motives in this case," said Jonathan Scruggs, an attorney from the Christian rights group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Scruggs appeared before the federal appeals court Wednesday to defend a 6-foot-tall bust of the Ten Commandments that Bloomfield, N.M., installed outside its city hall in 2011.

Emphasizing the statue's historical significance, Scruggs noted that the city next installed monuments of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and the Bill of Rights.

A New Mexico federal judge ordered the judge removed last year after finding that the overtly religious symbol represented an unconstitutional use of public property.

The American Civil Liberties Union had lodged the legal challenge against the statute, on behalf of members of the Bloomfield Wiccan community, who claimed the statue offended their non-Christian beliefs.

Ahead of the statue's removal in September 2014, Bloomfield appealed on the basis of a policy the city passed in 2007 that allows residents to privately fund public structures.

ACLU attorney Andrew Schultz told the 10th Circuit that the situation wasn't so simple.

"To quote you in your opinions you honor," Schultz said, addressing Senior Judge David Ebel, "context is everything."

While Scruggs noted that the structure was meant to "speak for the private parties who put it up," Schultz took issue with the disclaimer that sits beside the bust.

Though meant to explain the private parties' role in the statue and disconnect city officials with any religious messages that might come with it, Schultz said the sign was no larger than a "realtor's sign."

It was simply "stuck in the lawn," Schultz added, an impermanent fixture against the stone structure it denoted.

Ebel nevertheless interjected that such disclaimers are "pretty standard."

Schultz also argued that Bloomfield had adopted the policy to "rationalize what they had already done."

"The policy was passed after the city had already taken the impermissible step of authorizing the placement of the Ten Commandments monument to stand by itself at the front of the city hall lawn," Schultz said.

Scruggs, however, stuck to the notion that the structure should be considered "historical" in nature as opposed to simply religious.

He maintained that there was no "conspiracy" at work, as Schultz suggested.

Judges Robert Bacharach and Carolyn McHugh rounded out the appellate panel.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.