WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a lower court that ordered a New Mexico city to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the lawn outside City Hall.
Civil liberties advocates behind the case called the decision involving the city of Bloomfield a victory for the separation of church and state.
ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson said it sends a "strong message that the government should not be in the business of picking and choosing which sets of religious beliefs enjoy special favor in the community."
However, David Cortman, a senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the outcome did nothing to resolve confusion in lower courts involving such monuments.
"Americans shouldn't be forced to censor religion's role in history simply to appease someone who is offended by it or who has a political agenda to remove all traces of religion from the public square," said Cortman, whose group represented the city of Bloomfield.
The decision came after attorneys for the city argued that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ignored previous rulings by the Supreme Court that simply being offended by such a monument did not give someone a legal basis to challenge the monument.
In other cases, a Ten Commandments poster in a Kentucky courthouse was found constitutional and a monument on the grounds of a public building in Arkansas was determined to be unconstitutional.
In Bloomfield, a concrete block that displays the Ten Commandments sits alongside other monuments related to the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address and Bill of Rights.
The city claims it avoided endorsing a particular religion by placing disclaimers on the lawn stating the area was a public forum for citizens and that the privately funded monuments did not necessarily reflect the opinions of the city.
The Ten Commandments monument was erected in 2011 and challenged a year later by the ACLU. Lower courts concluded it violated the Constitution's ban on the government endorsing a religion.
Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the court's action because he was on the federal appeals court in Denver when it considered the matter.
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras contributed to this report from Albuquerque, New Mexico.