A group of adherents to the Wiccan faith sued the city of Bloomfield, NM alleging that a 3,000-pound monument to the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible on the grounds of the town’s City Hall is unconstitutional.
The Albuquerque Journal‘s Olivier Uyttebrouck reported that the pagan group is contesting the monument in that it amounts to a state endorsement of religion, which violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Jane Felix, spiritual leader of the Bloomfield-area Wiccan group told the Journal, “In my opinion, it says that anybody who doesn’t agree with this monument on city grounds is an outsider. It has no place on City Hall property.”
The trial began Monday in U.S. District Court of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
The city is being represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian-run nonprofit that advocates for the “constitutional protection of religious freedom.”
Lead attorney Jonathan Scruggs of ADF said that the Ten Commandments monument was funded by private donors. Under a Republican-sponsored 2007 New Mexico law, private groups are allowed to donate funds for historical monuments on city property.
“We see that private parties are the driving force here,” said Scruggs to Judge James A. Parker in court on Monday.
ADF has ties to the American Family Association and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as hate groups due to their history of supporting anti-LGBT discrimination.
The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the monument on the grounds that it is visible to anyone visiting city hall and is therefore a public endorsement of Judeo-Christian beliefs.
“This is not a free speech case,” said ACLU-affiliated Albuquerque attorney Andrew Schultz during opening arguments. “It is a case of government speech.”
“The fact that the monument was privately financed makes no difference,” he said.
Buford Coone, another member of the Bloomfield Wiccan group and second plaintiff in the suit, said that the monument sends an exclusionary message to non-Christians.
“It sends the message that Bloomfield is now a Christian community and all others need not be bothered by it,” said Coone.
[image of Wiccan adherent burning a smudge stick via Shutterstock.com]