High Court to Hear Religious Monuments Case

The nation's top court will today take up a case launched by a religious group in Utah that contends it has a right to place its "Seven Aphorisms" alongside the Ten Commandments monument in a park owned by Pleasant Grove City.

The Supreme Court Justices will decide whether the city can accept some donated monuments while denying others.

The Ten Commandments monument has been part of Pleasant Grove City's Pioneer Park since 1971, after being donated by The Fraternal Order of Eagles.

In 2003, the Summum group - which teaches principles the founder learned from extraterrestrial or "Advanced" beings - asked the city to accept a monument of its "Seven Aphorisms" but was turned down.

The Salt Lake City-group sued the city, claiming that it was unconstitutional for the city to erect the donated Ten Commandments monument but reject the Summum's proposed "Seven Aphorisms" monument. By accepting a donated monument, the Summum group claimed, the city transformed the park into a public forum where free speech is permitted.

According to Summum, its "Seven Aphorisms" represent the complete version of the Ten Commandments, which include the principles of psychokinesis, correspondence, vibration, opposition, rhythm, cause and effect and gender.

Since the city had accepted to display "religious principles" from one group, the Summum group said it should also grant them the same exposure.

A federal court granted an opinion in the city's favor. The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled the city had violated the group's free-speech rights.

Pleasant Grove, which is represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, contends that it has a right to decide what it wants to display in the park. By accepting the donation, the Ten Commandments monument was converted from private speech into government speech.

"The First Amendment does not compel a government that takes ownership of one private party's point of view to embrace all others as well," the city argued in its brief.

Under the Tenth Circuit ruling, a city accepting a Sept. 11 memorial would also have to display a monument from Al Qaeda next to it, according to the brief. But "accepting a Statue of Liberty does not compel a government to accept a Statue of Tyranny."

Over 20 cities have filed friend-to-the-court briefs in support of Pleasant Grove. They argue that the appellate ruling forces cities across the nation to either accept a clutter of fixed monuments or tear down existing historical monuments.

If not overturned, the Tenth Circuit's decision "ultimately would cause havoc for local governments, forcing them to remove long-standing and well-established patriotic, religious and historical displays to avoid being sued for failure to put up any and every other proposed monument to come along the pike," stated Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of ACLJ.