BLOOMFIELD — A federal judge's ruling earlier this month ordering the city of Bloomfield to remove the Ten Commandments monument at City Hall has stirred up reaction online, but the woman who brought the case against the city says she stands by her lawsuit and hopes the marker will find an appropriate home.
Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker said in his ruling on Aug. 7 that the monument is a form of government speech, and its presence on the front lawn of City Hall has the "primary or principal effect of endorsing religion." He ordered the monument be removed by Sept. 10.
In her first media interview since the ruling was handed down, Jane Felix said she was "initially surprised but also very pleased" at the judge's decision.
"Having read the judge's opinion, I feel like he got all the salient points of what our concerns were — that while it is a historical document, it is one for the Judeo-Christian religion, not for the United States of America," Felix said on Friday from her home in Bloomfield. "And (its placement on public property) violates what our founding fathers were talking about. It violates the fact that there should not be any specific religion put forth as a state religion. Even though they're not saying that, per se, that's what it implies to anyone who is non-Christian, and I think the judge heard that."
In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the lawsuit against the city on behalf of Felix and Buford Coone. Coone, who also lives in Bloomfield, declined to comment for this article.
After the ruling, ACLU of New Mexico Director Alexandra Freedman Smith said in a press release, "Not only does this monument run afoul of the First Amendment, but it sends an exclusionary message to members of the community who do not subscribe to the particular set of religious beliefs inscribed there."
Felix, a retired social worker, is a high priestess with the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage, a Wiccan religious group. She said when then-city councilor Kevin Mauzy proposed the Ten Commandments monument, she and others signed petitions and wrote letters to city officials in protest.
Felix said there are many more people who support removing the monument, including a majority of the members in her Wiccan coven. Many, however, fear the repercussions of doing so publicly, she said. Felix estimated 95 percent of her coven's members work for the city of Bloomfield or have family members who do.
"A lot of the flack or fall-out I'm getting has to do with how this is ruining our country to have one or two people speak up against the majority. ... The only reason we are two versus many on this suit is because many people literally were afraid for their jobs here in Bloomfield," said Felix, 70. "Many of our supporters either have spouses or they themselves work for the city, and the repercussions are too much. It's hard for me to believe that they could lose their jobs, and yet I've seen some of the corruption that's been occurring with city officials, and I guess it shouldn't surprise me. But the person in myself who wants to believe the best in people would believe that they wouldn't lose their jobs in a country where we have freedom of speech."
Reaction to the ruling has generated heated responses online, but Felix said she's not scared.
"Ninety-five percent of my coven fear for me, but I'm not afraid. It's sad. Maybe I'm being naive, I don't know," she said. "The negativity is just that — it serves nothing. I was raised a Christian. I chose to raise my spirituality to another level. It goes away from all the negativity that has come from all these emails and websites. People all over the country were responding very nastily. If people come after me, they'll come after me, and I'll deal with that. I don't have anything to lose. I know who I am."
She also added, "I'm not out to slander the Christian religion."
"That was never the point of the suit," Felix said. "The point of the suit was that those Ten Commandments are not representative of all religions and do not belong in a public purview."
Bloomfield City Council will discuss whether or to appeal the judge's ruling next week.
"No official decision (to appeal the ruling) has been made," City Attorney Ryan Lane said in a text message last week. "We're still analyzing the legal basis for an appeal. We will hold a special meeting to decide sometime in the next week or so."
The meeting to decide the matter will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the council chambers at City Hall, 915 N. 1st St. It is open to the public.
After reading about the ruling, Farmington resident Denise Lovato created a change.org petition against the decision and created a Facebook group named "Citizens in favor of Bloomfield City Hall Monument." As of Saturday evening, the group included more than 1,100 members, and the petition had more than 875 signatures.
"When I read the news, I was blown away, and I thought, 'This is the United States.' And it affects all of us. It's just crazy to me that a few people can have something go against what the majority want," Lovato said by phone on Friday. "The majority of the people want it there. If I see something I don't like, I wouldn't look at it. That's part of what this country's founded on. It's not trying to shove religion down someone's throat."
Like Felix, Lovato said she has also had threatening and lewd comments posted online about her. She said she plans to organize a meeting soon of the monument's supporters.
Felix said the monument should find an appropriate home on private property.
"I would love to see that monument moved to one of the grounds of the churches here in Bloomfield," Felix said. "That's where it belongs. It's a lovely monument. It's a fine monument, don't get me wrong. It just doesn't belong on state or city land."