Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr ()

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said Wednesday he has joined a coalition of states in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Bloomfield, New Mexico’s right to display a Ten Commandments monument on its city hall lawn.

Carr said in a news release that he is signing on to the brief because cities and states need guidance on the law surrounding historical monuments.

A district judge ordered Bloomfield to remove the Ten Commandments monument, and the city appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has upheld the judge’s order to remove the monument on the basis that it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.”

“The consistent application of our laws is paramount in maintaining the ideals of our democracy,” Carr said in the release. “Georgia joined this coalition because we agree that the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence needs to be clarified, especially in this area. Local governments need clear guidance as they consider whether to authorize or maintain historical displays on government property.”

Carr noted that depictions of the Ten Commandments appear on public property throughout the country and have been the subject of several notable lawsuits, including two that the U.S. Supreme Court resolved in 2005. “Those decisions relied on different legal analyses to reach different outcomes, increasing confusion in lower courts about what the Establishment Clause prohibits and what it permits,” Carr said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading the coalition. The group includes attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin, along with Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Gov. Paul LePage of Maine.

“Like the federal government, states, counties, and municipalities have historically included, or allowed private parties to include, religious text and symbols on monuments and other displays on public property,” the brief said. “The absence of a clear Establishment Clause test, even in the subset of cases involving Ten Commandments displays, encourages costly and time-consuming litigation against governmental entities and actors. Amici seek freedom to erect, authorize, and maintain constitutional displays on government property without the ongoing threat of wasteful litigation.”

The amici argued the high court should abandon reliance on a “reasonable observer” standard and adopt a “coercion-based test” that they say would lead to more reliable outcomes.

The brief is posted on Carr’s website, www.law.ga.gov.

The case is Bloomfield v. Jane Felix, No. 17-60.