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Thou shalt not marry thine church and thine state

By Elise Kaplan, fearless intern [ Wed Jun 22 2011 3:06 PM ]

The city of Bloomfield, N.M., may have the Ten Commandments installed in front of City Hall. Not so fast, says the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. The organization announced today that it filed a public records request on the project to determine if it violates the First Amendment.

The Bloomfield City Council supported a proposal to install the biblical statue on Monday, June 13. Four years earlier, Councilor Kevin Mauzy spearheaded a policy allowing any organization to donate a monument to City Hall as long as it pertains to the history of the U.S. law.

After the policy passed in July 2007, Peter Simonson, the executive director of ACLU-NM, expressed concerns that the Ten Commandments monument violates the Constitution. Supporters say the statue reflects the history of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Simonson says he doesn't see anything to validate that view.

"There is no evidence to suggest a direct link between the Ten Commandments and anything in our body of laws." America’s legal system can't be attributed to any particular text, he adds.

While the monument will not receive city funding, he says its placement suggests an endorsement of a specific faith. The language of the Ten Commandments varies between religions, and Simonson says the inclusion of one variation excludes others.

"The city of Bloomfield is faced with a decision of which religion they're going to snub and which particular faith they're going to ensconce in a monument on the lawn of their City Hall," he says.

The members of the ACLU watch for cases of local governments endowing religious symbolism and meaning on city property. In some cases they can resolve the issue with a letter or open dialogue—but other cases end up in the Supreme Court. Simonson says the courts generally rule against the local government in similar cases throughout the country.

"Where the local government has simply constructed a stand-alone Ten Commandments monument ... the courts have ruled those monuments to be an impermissible violation of the First Amendment," he says. This is especially true when the governmental body that supported the installation had a religious motivation, he adds.

Simonson says that the ACLU will determine its next course of action after a full investigation into the proposal.

Bloomfield's city councilors were unavailable for comment.