23 states rally to defend biblical monument in case that’s headed to Supreme Court

DCNFJoshua Gill, DCNF

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus brief Thursday signed by 23 other state attorney generals in defense of a New Mexico monument depicting the Ten Commandments.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

A district court ruled in 2012 that the monument, set in the city hall lawn of Bloomfield, N.M., violated the First Amendment’s Establishment clause and ordered its removal, according to a press release issued Thursday by Paxton’s office. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused in February to reconsider the district court’s decision, spurring Paxton and the coalition of 23 states which Paxton leads to file the amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on Bloomfield’s behalf.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that a passive monument such as a Ten Commandments display, accompanied by other displays acknowledging our nation’s religious heritage, are not an establishment of religion,” Paxton said. “Governments shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply because a few people claim they are offended by it.”

The amicus brief calls for the Supreme Court to issue an opinion that will provide clarity on the issue of the Establishment Clause test mentioned in Lemon v. Kurtzman.

“The Court should jettison that test, which leads lower courts to engage in analysis far afield from the text, purpose, and history of the Establishment Clause,” the brief claims. “It should also abandon reliance on a ‘reasonable observer’ standard. Finally, the Court should adopt a coercion-based test that will facilitate reliable application by lower courts and yield predictable results for litigants.”

In addition to Paxton, the attorney generals of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin joined the amicus brief. Kentucky Commonwealth Gov. Matt Bevin and Maine Gov. Paul LePage also joined in support of the brief.

The American Civil Liberties Union began the legal battle over the monument in 2012 when the organization sued Bloomfield on behalf of two citizens who took issue with the display, according to The Associated Press.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the courts’ finding that the monument is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the city,” said Andy Schultz, an attorney for the ACLU’s New Mexico chapter. “Our nation is home to many rich religious traditions and the government shouldn’t be in the business of setting one set of religious beliefs above another.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Supreme Court to rehear the case July 6.

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