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High court agrees to consider religious-monument dispute

By The Associated Press
03.31.08

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a free-speech case in which a church wants to place a religious monument in a park.

Officials in Pleasant Grove City, Utah, asked the Court to step into the lawsuit brought by the religious group known as Summum, saying that if the group prevails, governments could be inundated with demands to display donated monuments.

The dispute stems from Pleasant Grove City's refusal to allow the display of a "Seven Aphorisms of Summum" monument in the same park that is the home for a Ten Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles 47 years ago.

At issue is whether a donated monument displayed by a municipality remains the private speech of the original donor or is government speech. Another issue is whether placing donated monuments in a government-owned park creates a public forum or whether the government retains authority to select which monuments to display.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the monument remains the private speech of the donor and that the park is a public forum.

"Government bodies are now sitting targets for demands that they grant 'equal access' to whatever comparable monuments a given group wishes to have installed, be it Summum's Seven Aphorisms, an atheist group's Monument to Freethought or Rev. Fred Phelps's denunciations of homosexual persons," lawyers for Pleasant Grove City wrote in asking the Supreme Court to intervene.

In response, the religious group says government bodies always have the option of banning display of all privately donated monuments. Pleasant Grove City has treated donated items as private speech for decades, said the religious group, Summum, a Latin term meaning the sum total of all creation, was founded in 1975 and is headquartered in Salt Lake City. The Seven Aphorisms refer to a notion that when Moses received stone tablets on Mount Sinai inscribed with writings made by a divine being, he actually received two separate sets of tablets — the Seven Aphorisms and the Ten Commandments.

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


Previous
10th Circuit backs Summum in fights with 2 Utah cities
Panel: Group likely to succeed in forcing Pleasant Grove to allow Seven Aphorisms next to Ten Commandments; sect may challenge Duchesne's sale of park land. 04.18.07

Related

Public forums at heart of 2 cases

By Tony Mauro After backing Texas' commandments display, justices to consider Summum aphorisms for Utah park; other case involves unions’ political payroll deductions. 04.01.08

9th Circuit finds Ten Commandments monument constitutional
By David L. Hudson Jr. Everett, Wash., display, donated in 1959, can stay on grounds of Old City Hall. 04.01.08

A right for one is a right for all
By Charles C. Haynes Two court victories by religious groups this month remind us that government must stay neutral toward religion. 04.29.07

2007-08 Supreme Court case tracker

Ten Commandments, other displays & mottos

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