Jewish Journal

Seven Aphorisms are no Ten Commandments

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 25, 2009 | 6:40 pm

The Seven Aphorisms of the Summum religion won’t find a place in a Utah park next to the Ten Commandments. The Supreme Court ruled today that the First Amendment does not entitle any religious group to government land.

From the LA Times:

Four years ago, city officials refused to allow the founders of Summum to erect a stone monument in the same park featuring the religion’s “Seven Aphorisms.” The new religion, begun in 1975, claimed its sayings were undiscovered messages from Mt. Sinai.

When the city refused, Summum filed a lawsuit claiming its free-speech rights were violated. And to the surprise of the city and many legal expects, Summum won in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Its judges said that once the park had been opened to one private’s group message, others had a free-speech right to have their message displayed as well.

That ruling set off alarms. If upheld, it could have opened the door to all manner of groups claiming their monuments and statues were entitled to equal space in city, state or national parks.

But the Supreme Court overturned the appeals court ruling today in Pleasant Grove vs. Summum and said there is no free-speech right to erect a monument in a park. Its decision ignored the religious component of the monuments because the case focused only on free speech.

“Although a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and other transitory expressive acts, the display of a permanent monument is not a forum of expression” protected by the free-speech clause of the 1st Amendment, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said.

“Instead, the placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech,” he said. And no one has a legal right to demand the government give equal time to its message, he added.

Thanks to my old boss, AMiller, for sending this along.


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