A Christian legal group asked the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday to review and overturn a lower court decision that ordered a Utah city either to allow a non-mainstream religious group to erect its monument next to the Ten Commandments or to take down all monuments.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said it filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum with plans to file a similar petition in a second case involving Duchesne City in Utah. The legal group is representing both cities in the cases.
In both cases, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Summum, an obscure religious movement that began in 1975, had a right to free speech and could demand the city to erect its private "Seven Aphorisms" monument in the city parks because cities already displayed Ten Commandments monuments.
The governments in both cities elected to remove their Ten Commandments monument rather than allow Summum to erect its Seven Aphorisms monument.
ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said the petition will give the High Court a chance to "rectify a lower court's very twisted interpretation of the First Amendment."
The legal group argued in the petition that the federal appeals court made a serious error – confusing government speech with private speech.
While private speakers have the right to use government property to speak, said the petition, a monument donated to the government would render it government property.
"Any communication thenceforth is government speech," continued the petition.
"The government has to be neutral toward private speech, but it does not have to be neutral in its own speech," commented Sekulow.
Summum attorney Brian Barnard said he doubts the Supreme Court will hear the case, the Desert Morning News reported.
He said the federal appeals court decision is similar to one it issued in a 2002 case against the city of Ogden, which prompted city officials to remove a Ten Commandments display donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles from city property and relocate it onto private property nearby.
The 10th Circuit decision will stand if the Supreme Court declines to review the case.
"If a government entity allows one group to erect a permanent monument in a public park expressing religious beliefs dear to that group, other groups should be allowed to display similar tenets of faith," Barnard said.
Barnard is also involved in other cases challenging "religious" symbols across the state. On Tuesday, he lost a case in which he represented a group of atheists seeking to remove memorial crosses erected by the Utah Highway Patrol Association to honor fallen patrolmen. The judge upheld that the purpose and the context of the crosses displayed along state highway were secular.
In his statement, Sekulow said the Supreme Court needs to "bring an end to a dangerous interpretation of free speech and equal access."
"This ruling, if left unchecked, would ultimately force local governments to remove long-standing and well established patriotic, religious and historical displays," he said.
"The ramifications of this flawed decision go well beyond Utah and affect every American city and town."