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Supreme Court: City may post Ten Commandments but refuse other monuments

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously agreed that a little-known religious group does not have the right to erect the "Seven Aphorisms" of its beliefs in a Utah city park just because the Ten Commandments are displayed there.

In their decision, the justices said the Ten Commandments monument in a Pleasant Grove City, Utah, park is a form of government speech, and the city's decision to turn down a request from the religious group Summum is not a violation of the group's First Amendment rights.

Unlike previous court decisions about the display of the Ten Commandments, this case concerned the Free Speech Clause, and not the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from favoring one religion over another.

Permanent monuments in city parks, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the court, are erected "for the purpose of presenting the image of the city that it wishes to project to all who frequent the park."

Pleasant Grove's park, for instance, displays a granary, wishing well and the city's first fire station, along with the Ten Commandments monument.

Summum, a Salt Lake City-based religion formed in 1975, said the city was under an obligation to accept its monument to the Seven Aphorisms, insights originally on Moses' stone tablets, but not widely distributed.

A divided 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed the city had to accept the offer.

But Alito said "if government entities must maintain viewpoint neutrality in their selection of donated monuments, they must either brace themselves for an influx of clutter or face the pressure to remove longstanding and cherished monuments."

He did warn "this does not mean that there are no restraints on government speech," especially that it must comport with the Establishment Clause. And he said governments must not use the cover of government speech as "subterfuge for favoring certain private speakers over others based on viewpoint."

Supreme Court: City may post Ten Commandments but refuse other monuments 02/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 10:49pm]
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