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Supreme Court rules Utah city can reject religious sect's monument

Lawyers for the Summum religion had argued that its monument should be allowed in a public park where the Ten Commandments were already displayed.

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The US Supreme Court has ruled that a Utah city did not violate the free speech rights of a religious sect when it refused to place the group's monument beside an existing Ten Commandments monument in a public park.

Lawyers for the Summum religion insisted in a lawsuit that the placement of the Ten Commandments monument in a Pleasant Grove City park created a public forum that required the city to accept other kinds of monuments and messages.

When Pleasant Grove refused to accept Summum's monument, the group sued the city for engaging in unconstitutional censorship. A federal appeals court agreed. The city was ordered to erect the Summum monument.

In a unanimous decision announced Wednesday, the Supreme Court reversed that decision. The high court said that when a government entity decides to place a privately donated monument on public land, the display represents the government's own speech and does not require government acceptance of any and all other monuments conveying competing messages private groups may want displayed.

"Government decisionmakers select the monuments that portray what they view as appropriate for the place in question, taking into account such content-based factors as esthetics, history, and local culture," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court in an 18-page decision. "The monuments that are accepted, therefore, are meant to convey … a government message, and they thus constitute government speech."

The decision in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum is important because it marks the latest expression of an emerging doctrine in Supreme Court jurisprudence setting the limits and powers of government speech.

"The decision gives government the right to speak for itself and the ability to communicate on behalf of its citizens," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, who argued the case for Pleasant Grove.

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