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Federal appeals court rules New Mexico Ten Commandments monument unconstitutional

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that a New Mexico city's Ten Commandments monument placed on the City Hall lawn is unconstitutional. The lawsuit [complaint, PDF] was initially filed in 2012 against the city of Bloomfield [official website] by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of two residents who are members of the Wiccan religion [advocacy websites]. The appeals court affirmed the lower court ruling citing the First Amendment [text], which requires that government action can't endorse a specific religion. The court held that when, "the government ... displays [the Ten Commandments monument] on public property, it is adopting the message conveyed by that monument as the government's own speech. The court reasoned that an observer of the monument could draw the impression that the city was endorsing a religion.

Ten Commandments displays have been the subject of legal controversy in recent years. In August 2014 the ACLU filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in the Oklahoma County District Court seeking the removal of a Ten Commandments monument placed prominently in the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] in February 2011 upheld a lower court ruling barring the Ten Commandments [JURIST report] from being displayed in an Ohio courthouse. The Sixth Circuit in June 2010 upheld an injunction against similar displays [JURIST report] in two Kentucky courthouses. A month earlier the same court denied an en banc rehearing in another case [opinion, PDF] involving the display of the Ten Commandments in a Grayson County, Kentucky, courthouse. The court found the display to be constitutional because it presented a valid secular purpose from the outset. In a 2005 decision the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of a Ten Commandments display [JURIST report] in a Mercer County, Kentucky, courthouse.

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