It was a sweltering Independence Day in 2011 when Bloomfield residents gathered to see their city’s new Ten Commandments monument at City Hall.
Many wore flag T-shirts and other patriotic garb. Speakers on the small municipal lawn talked of God and country.
“It was a very patriotic type of day,” said Kevin Mauzy, a former city councilor and organizer of the Four Corners Historical Monument Project.
Three years later, Bloomfield residents are anxiously awaiting the ruling of an Albuquerque judge about whether the monument is constitutional.
Supporters say the Ten Commandments monument is part of a secular display of American historical documents, while opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, say the monument violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against government-sponsored religion.
The ACLU sued Bloomfield officials on behalf of two residents, Jane Felix and B.N. Coone, who said they were offended by the monument.
The case now rests with Judge James Parker of the U.S. District Court of New Mexico. Parker heard three days of testimony March 10-12. He is expected to rule this summer or fall.
If nothing else, the debate over the monument demonstrates the yawning culture gap between liberal Durango – where the monument was chiseled by a local business – and conservative Bloomfield, a town 45 miles away that relies on the natural-gas industry for jobs.
The monument came about after Mauzy was elected to Bloomfield’s City Council in 2007. His proposal to turn the City Hall lawn into a “public forum” for monuments was unanimously approved. At the time, Mauzy already was consulting with the American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defense Fund, two conservative legal organizations.
Mauzy said he ran on a campaign to beautify the city, and the Ten Commandments monument was part of that effort.
“We tried to do it in a legal manner, and in the right way,” he said.
Mauzy said he knew the monument would be controversial but denied he’s trying to pick a fight with supporters of the separation of church and state.
“That was one of the earliest documents,” he said. “It was essential in the founding of our country. So I thought it would be a good place to start, and go from there.”
The ACLU says the commandments’ placement on city-owned property amounts to government endorsing religion. Among other prohibitions not to kill or steal, the first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”
Andrew Schultz, an Albuquerque lawyer who is a cooperating attorney on the case, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. He referred questions to the ACLU of New Mexico.
“Now it’s just a waiting game,” said Micah McCoy, an ACLU of New Mexico spokesman. “We’re waiting for the court to return a ruling on the arguments. It’s kind of anybody’s guess.”
The Decalogue was installed at a cost of about $4,000, Mauzy said.
The monument was paid for by “private individuals” who Mauzy said he could not identify. Initially, the funding was routed through Jacob’s Well, a local Christian organization. Mauzy said that was done to provide some accountability for the funds.
Later, donations were directed to Family Craft Memorials, the Durango business that made the monuments.
The Ten Commandments monument later was joined Nov. 11, 2011, by a three-panel display of the Declaration of Independence and then by the text of the Gettysburg Address on July 4, 2012. It’s part of the city’s legal defense that the City Hall lawn is a “public forum” for historical documents.
Mauzy, 53, is a lifelong Bloomfield resident who inspects buildings for the city of Farmington. During an interview outside City Hall, he greeted other Bloomfield residents whom he has known for decades.
Bloomfield is a strongly religious community, with large Baptist and Mormon congregations mixing with other churches. On an average Sunday, more than 500 believers attend First Baptist Church, according to its website.
“I do think that Bloomfield is a very moral community,” said Mayor Scott Eckstein.
Mauzy stepped down after serving one term on the City Council. Eckstein supported the ordinance that permitted the monuments, but he said he’s had very little subsequent involvement.
The monument has had some local detractors but more support, Eckstein said.
On July 4, Mauzy plans to unveil a fourth monument, featuring the Bill of Rights on the front and the Pledge of Allegiance on the back. He’s also planning a fifth monument, this one to honor the Navajo Code Talkers who served in World War II.
The court will have to decide whether the other monuments are part of a clever legal strategy to place a religious monument among secular documents or whether it’s a permissible historical display.
Mauzy is hopeful the court will let the monument stand at City Hall, where it’s flanked by pear trees.
“There’s a bigger picture here,” he said. “There’s more to the story.”