Supreme Court Rules Against Religious Display in Public Park

180px-rembrandt_harmensz_van_rijn_079The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a small religious group cannot force a city in Utah to place a granite marker in a local park. The park in Pleasant Grove Utah already contains a Ten Commandments display. Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion.

Alito rejected the argument that this was a free speech matter. He stressed the placement of a permanent marker is strikingly different from prohibiting speech in a park.

Such a monument would constitute “government speech,” conveying a message that it wishes to get out about “esthetics, history, and local culture.” Four Justices filed concurring opinions.

A religious sect, the Summum, argued that its free speech rights were violated when the city of Pleasant Grove City, Utah., when the city accepted a Ten Commandments monument in its pubic park but refused to accept a monument displaying tenets of the Summum faith. The “Seven Aphorisms” of that faith represent what believers view as the contents of the original tablets handed down by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. For an earlier entry, click here.

For a copy of the opinion, click here.

For the oral argument in the case, click here.

The case is Pleasant Grove City, UT v. Summum (07-665).

10 thoughts on “Supreme Court Rules Against Religious Display in Public Park”

  1. Just thought you might want to know…

    Dr. Terry Mortenson is with Answers in Genesis, an apologetics ministry that operates the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. He says to believe in both evolution and the Bible is inconsistent. Mortenson points to the first 11 chapters of Genesis — specifically Genesis, Chapter 1.

    “The Bible says the earth was created before the sun, moon, and stars — contrary to the big-bang theory. The Bible says that plants were created before sea creatures — contrary to…evolutionary theory,” Mortenson points out.

    “And then the Bible says that there was no death before Adam’s sin — no animal death, no human death. But evolution says there were hundreds of millions of years of death in the physical world. So you have to ignore the details of the Bible to accept evolution.”

    But what about the scientific evidence? Is there evidence that supports creationism?

    “Oh, there is an enormous amount of scientific evidence that supports that God created separate kinds of plants and animals,” Mortenson replies. “The fossil record supports that, what we know about natural selection and mutation supports that — and there’s an enormous, massive amount of evidence in the geological record for Noah’s flood.”

    According to ministry spokesman, the Creation Museum has some of this evidence on display.” (from Onenewsnow)

  2. Mike A.

    Isn’t that the answer they gave about One Nation Under God (or another similar case)? It doesn’t matter because it’s a cultural chit-chat of no significance. Thanks for your anaylsis. It was superb

  3. I have finally had an opportunity to slog through the opinion in this case. For what it’s worth, which is nothing, I believe the decision is flat-out wrong and poorly reasoned.

    Justice Alito predicates the majority opinion on the concept of “government speech,” concluding that by accepting and displaying the monument, the government was expressing a point of view consistent with the “esthetics, history, and local culture” of the community, thereby removing its actions from judicial scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. He suggested that the remedy for the offended is the ballot box.

    In rejecting the claim that by accepting the monument, the government has adopted the intended meaning of the donor, Justice Alito argues that “text-based” monuments are subject to widely varying interpretations that may change over time. The examples he cites, however, are hardly analogous to a display of the Ten Commandments. The first example is the “Imagine” mosaic donated to Central Park in memory of John Lennon. The second is a statue in Fayetteville, Arkansas containing the word “peace” in various languages. While clearly observers of these monuments will have a myriad of interpretations, they can hardly be considered as “text-based.” Justice Alito attempts to buttress his argument with references to privately funded war memorials and even the Statue of Liberty, but those examples are simply not relevant.

    Only passing reference is given to the Establishment Clause in the opinion, perhaps because the case was pursued as a Freedom of Speech case. But for reasons best addressed in a separate comment, that approach would have failed as well. It appears that the majority is willing to gloss over the obvious by treating the Ten Commandments not as a statement of a particular religious doctrine, but as one of the cultural and historical elements of American life. What the average person regards as the foundation of a specific religious tradition can be sponsored and displayed by the government provided only that we officially regard it as nothing more than cultural pablum. Thus we reach the conclusion we wish to reach by insulting both religion and logic.

    There is a lot of stuff worthy of debate in the opinion, particularly in the four separate concurring opinions. Suffice it to say that the decision resolves nothing. It is a concoction made up of equal parts naivete and myopia.

  4. “Supreme Court Rules Against Religious Display in Public Park”

    And not a single cat could care less.

  5. Democrat Senior Senator Byrd says Obama trying to impower Presidency beyond Constitutional limits:

    In a scathing letter to Obama on Wednesday, Byrd complained about Obama’s decision to create White House offices on health reform, urban affairs policy, and energy and climate change.

    Byrd said such positions “can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials.”…
    “As presidential assistants and advisers, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials, and to virtually anyone but the president,” Byrd wrote. “They rarely testify before congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.”

    The West Virginia Democrat on Wednesday demanded Obama “consider the following: that assertions of executive privilege will be made only by the president, or with the president’s specific approval; that senior White House personnel will be limited from exercising authority over any person, any program, and any funding within the statutory responsibility of a Senate-confirmed department or agency head; that the president will be responsible for resolving any disagreement between a Senate-confirmed agency or department head and White House staff; and that the lines of authority and responsibility in the administration will be transparent and open to the American public.”

  6. RC – I rembembered this case being a tad peculiar to Utah and it’s Mormon heritage from JT’s previous articles, and so went the winning argument, apparently.

    *** “… The Fraternal Order of Eagles argued that the Ten Commandments monument was a tribute not to the Christian religion but to the Mormon pioneers who settled the area in the 19th century.”

    ***from (ie Association of Fundraising Professionals)

    US Supreme Court rules against Utah sec

    1 hour ago

    “WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that a public park in Utah does not have to place a monument by a small sect alongside one of the Ten Commandments.

    The sect, called Summum, filed a lawsuit against the small city of Pleasant Grove for rejecting their “Seven Aphorisms” monument while allowing the Ten Commandments erected in 1971 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

    Formed in 1975, the sect says that both the Seven Aphorisms and the Ten Commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, but that he destroyed the tablet containing the aphorisms.

    “It is hard to imagine how a public park could be opened up for the installation of permanent monuments by every person or group wishing to engage in that form of expression,” said Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court.

    “The obvious truth of the matter is that if public parks were considered to be traditional public forums for the purpose of erecting privately donated monuments, most parks would have little choice but to refuse all such donations.”

    The justices ruled that Pleasant Grove’s decision to accept some donated monuments while rejecting others like that of Summum was not subject to the free speech clause of the US Constitution.

    Liberty Legal Institute, which represents veteran groups and supported the park, said the ruling worked in favor of veterans’ memorials in public squares, as most are donated.

    “The millions of veterans we represent are pleased and see this as a crucial first step in protecting our veterans’ memorials from attacks nationwide,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute.

    Summum, which first applied to put up the monument in 2003, sued the city for violating their right to free speech and lost. But an appeals court sided with them, ruling that their star-shaped monument should stand with the Ten Commandments, a monument the court called religious and not historic in nature.

    The Fraternal Order of Eagles argued that the Ten Commandments monument was a tribute not to the Christian religion but to the Mormon pioneers who settled the area in the 19th century.”

  7. What part of the use of the word “religion” in the same sentence as “public” or “publicly-funded” or “tax-based” or “tax-funded” do these folks not understand about these things being completely un-Constitutional? They can tattoo the ten commandments on their foreheads if they choose as that’s private property, but NOT ON PUBLIC (tax-based) PROPERTY.

    This is not an attack on Christians or Christianity. These rules apply to all religious faiths. The government CANNOT appear to be endorsing one religion over any or all others belief systems including atheism. Either any or all religions have equal unfettered access to all public spaces or no religion does. Our Founders knew well the havoc and intrigue and violence that mixing politics and religion can bring to a country and they deliberately chose to avoid it.

  8. I am struck by just how “hip” Justice Alito is as he combs through the arcane Constitutional principles. Here’s his scholarly take on one contemporary advertising message:

    “This argument fundamentally misunderstands the way monuments convey meaning. The meaning conveyed by a monument is generally not a simple one like “ ‘Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.’ ” Johanns, supra, at 554. Even when a monument features the written word, the monument may be intended to be interpreted, and may in fact be interpreted by different observers, in a variety of ways. Monuments called to our attention by the briefing in this case illustrate this phenomenon.”

    “Where’s the beef?,” more like it!

  9. “Such a monument would constitute “government speech,” Isn’t that exactly the point as to why either none or all should be allowed?

    (When I click for the opinion it comes up with the Telecoms.)

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