Ten Commandments Protested At City Hall (Jan/Feb 1995)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation made banner headlines in Hobbs, New Mexico, after requesting the removal of a Ten Commandments marker at city hall on behalf of a Foundation member.

In early December, the Foundation wrote Mayor Randal Owensby:

“On behalf of a complainant who is a taxpayer and resident of Hobbs, as well as our other members in New Mexico and nationwide, we are writing to ask that the city of Hobbs remove the Ten Commandments marker by the south entrance of City Hall. In the Stone v. Graham case (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decisively that the Ten Commandments have a religious, not secular, purpose. We further bring to your attention Art. II of the New Mexico Constitution which guarantees:

” ‘No person shall be required to attend any place of worship or support any religious sect or denomination; nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.’

“This display on city property shows a clear preference for a particular religion, and a disregard for the rights of atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Native American religions and other minorities.

“The First Commandment alone is sufficient to show how inappropriate it is for city government to endorse it, reading ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ Is the city of Hobbs on record recognizing which deity is ‘correct’? In fact, the first four commandments are exclusively religious; only three have any modern criminal merit and they are more appropriately legislated by New Mexico laws and ordinances. The Tenth Commandment against ‘coveting’ wives, asses, etc., is not only sexist, but, if followed, would lead to the collapse of our free enterprise system! This tablet belongs on private, not public property, particularly the seat of city government where citizens must walk by it to exercise civic rights and duties.”

The Hobbs Daily News-Sun ran an editorial on December 16, 1994, “Getting religion at City Hall,” in support of the presence of the Ten Commandments on city property:

“God is acknowledged in many state and federal (sic) constitutions. God is on America’s coin and paper currency. The reasons for this are fairly simple: The notion that a clean separation of church and state should exist is relatively new. In the history of western culture, the link between government and religion is more like a stew than separate courses of meat and vegetables.

“It has only been in recent decades that bands of mischievous crusaders have set out to put this stew back into its basic, separate ingredients. Now these crusaders are in Lea County. . . .

“Citizens who understandably resent the intrusion are expressing their wishes that the stone be left alone. . . .

“Complicating the issue is the fact that eight of the Ten Commandments comprise an almost universally accepted social and legal code. . . .

“Try as they might, the Freedom From Religion people won’t have an easy time blotting out the ancient cultural history of America with modern notions of political correctness.”

The newspaper ran several front page articles about the complaint, interviewing “local residents who are outraged.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, a staff member of the Foundation, was quoted saying: “We have our own set of commandments. The most important is, ‘Love Thy First Amendment.’ The second is that the majority does not have the right to dictate their religious beliefs to the minority. Those are the real principles this nation was founded on.”

A representative with Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice was quoted distorting the most pertinent legal precedent, an action by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand Harvey v. Cobb County, Georgia. The ACLJ said the decision permitted the Ten Commandments to stay in a public forum. The opposite was true.

Foundation attorney Robert Tiernan wrote the Hobbs city attorney to correct the disinformation:

“In that case, the Court held that a display of the Ten Commandments in the County courthouse was unconstitutional. The Court stayed the order for four months to give the parties an opportunity to eliminate the objectionable features of the display. This proved to be impossible and the display was subsequently removed. The Harvey decision was affirmed at 15 F.3d 1097 and certiorari was denied at 114 S.Ct. 2138.

“To summarize,” Tiernan concluded, “the Courts have made it clear that the Ten Commandments are a religious text, that their display on public property constitutes impermissible government endorsement of religion, and that the public form doctrine is irrelevant to the issues involved. While the decision to remove the monument from the grounds at Hobbs City Hall may be unpopular with some, City officials can rest secure in the knowledge that they followed the Constitutional mandate of the Establishment Clause.”

The city has not yet responded to the Foundation’s letter.

Thanks to the Foundation members throughout New Mexico and the nation who took the time to write educational letters to Hobbs officials and its newspaper over this controversy. Some of these letters have appeared in the Daily News-Sun letters page, giving balance to the controversy. If you would like to respond to some of the points of the negative editorial quoted above, send your letter to the Hobbs Daily News-Sun, P.O. Box 860, Hobbs, NM 88240.

Freedom From Religion Foundation