Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Public Park Not Public Forum for Donated Monuments

Supreme Court rejects free speech challenge to park displaying donated 10 Commandments monument but rejecting Summum 7 Aphorisms monument

The United States Supreme Court has unanimously decided Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum. When Pleasant Grove refused to display in the park a monument with the Seven Aphorisms of the small religion known as Summum, which adherents offered to donate, event though the city park permanently featured eleven other donated displays including a donated Ten Commandments monument, Summum sued. They argued that the city was unconstitutionally restricting their speech because of its content in a public forum, i.e., in the park.

But the Supreme Court has now held that the permanent monument was government speech, and so not subject to free speech challenge. (The question of whether the city was violating the Establishment Clause by displaying the Ten Commandments monument was not in front of the Court.) The Court was unanimous, although Justice Breyer concurred in the 8-Justice majority opinion and Justice Souter concurred only in the judgment, both writing separately to emphasize that the Court should not be too categorical in its conclusion that all permanent monuments are government speech not restricted by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

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