Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 11, 2014
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A trial has started in federal court on whether a New Mexico city can have a monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments on the lawn in front of Bloomfield City Hall.
The lawsuit contends the 6-foot-tall granite monument violates the religious freedoms of residents by conveying a message that the city endorses a particular religious belief.
The trial before Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker began Monday, the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1ctGnd2 ) reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of two Bloomfield residents who practice the Wiccan religion
“In my opinion, it says that anybody who doesn’t agree with this monument on city grounds is an outsider,” plaintiff Jane Felix testified. “It has no place on City Hall property.”
Lawyers for the northwestern New Mexico city contend that private individuals erected and paid for the monument under a 2007 city resolution. That resolution allows people to erect historical monuments of their choosing.
“We see that private parties are the driving force here,” said Jonathan Scruffs, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group defending the city in court.
Andrew Schultz, an Albuquerque attorney for the plaintiffs, contends city leaders drove the effort to erect the monument.
“This is not a free speech case,” Schultz said during opening arguments. “It is a case of government speech.”
Schultz told Parker that most of the money for the monument came from four former city councilors who approved the plan by one of them to erect the monument.
“The fact that the monument was privately financed makes no difference,” he said.
Attorneys for the city contend that the policy provides equal access to any group that wants a monument at City Hall relevant to the history or heritage of the city.