BOZEMAN, Mont. — The American Civil Liberties Union plans to review a decision by the Bozeman City Commission to reinstall a Ten Commandments monument in a city park.
"It's just a disappointment that this is how the commission chooses to use its time and judgment," said Scott Crichton, executive director of the ACLU of Montana.
The Helena-based organization said it would review a recording of the Dec.11 city commission meeting to learn what arguments were used in reaching the decision, then would decide whether to pursue legal action.
"Litigation is always a last resort," Crichton said.
However, he noted that the commission apparently disregarded advice from City Attorney Paul Luew, who suggested putting the monument on private property was the best option, given potential legal issues.
"You wonder why they pay an attorney if they choose to ignore (him)," Crichton said.
In discussing the issue on Dec. 11, three of the commissioners said the monument didn't necessarily promote one religion over another and didn't infringe on anyone's rights. Commissioners voted 4-1 to return the monument to Soroptimist Park.
Commissioner Steve Kirchoff cast the lone dissenting vote, saying returning the monument would "put our foot into the quagmire, into the tar pit."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in Van Orden v. Perry that monuments featuring religious themes can be displayed on public property as long as they do not imply government endorsement of a specific religion.
"This monument has been there for seven presidents," Commissioner Jeff Rupp said, expressing sentiment for preserving the monument's location at the park.
The Bozeman Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the monument to the city in the 1970s for display at the downtown city park. The monument was moved earlier this year while the park was being renovated.
Debate heated up on the monument's future this fall when Bozeman resident Charles Swart offered to pay to reinstall the monument at the park. Shortly after it was returned, the contractor doing the renovation work removed it again.
Since then, the city has debated whether to permanently return it.
About 35 people spoke on the issue at the Dec. 11 meeting.
"The Ten Commandments is clearly a Christian symbol," said David Cook, a member of the city's Recreation and Parks Board.
But Commissioner Kaaren Jacobson said the Ten Commandments were not just for Christians.
"I think the Ten Commandments are a good symbol. ... They can be more broadly interpreted," she said.