- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

Governments that receive donations of Ten Commandments displays and other monuments for public parks are not compelled to take everything they are offered, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The court said that a small religious group, the Summum, cannot force Pleasant Grove City, Utah, to place its granite marker in a park that has been home to a Ten Commandments monument for 38 years.

Officials do not violate free speech rights when they reject requests to display monuments, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in his opinion for the court.

“It is hard to imagine how a public park could be opened up for the installation of permanent monuments by every person or group wishing to engage in that form of expression,” Justice Alito said.

The court reversed a ruling of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that the city’s decision violated the Summum’s rights. The Salt Lake City-based group argued that a city can’t allow some private donations of displays in its public park and reject others.

Justice Alito distinguished the Summum’s case from efforts to prevent people from speaking in public parks, which ordinarily would violate the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.

He said “the display of a permanent monument in a public park” requires a different analysis.

Because monuments in public parks help define a city’s identity, “cities and other jurisdictions take some care in accepting donated monuments,” he said.

Brian Barnard, the Summum’s lawyer in Salt Lake City, said the group would continue to press its case against Pleasant Grove City by arguing that governments can’t favor one religion over another.

“The emphasis in the case will shift to the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government favoring one religion over another,” Mr. Barnard said. “That is what Pleasant Grove has done. The city has adopted as their own the religious tenets of the Ten Commandments and given those precepts a prominent display in their public park.”

A call to Summum in Salt Lake City was referred to Mr. Barnard, who did not argue in front of the court but was at the arguments.

“It does not take a constitutional scholar to understand simple fairness,” he said. “The dangers inherent in government favoring one religion are obvious.”

But Justice Antonin Scalia, in a separate opinion that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the Utah case was much like the Ten Commandments display on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol in Austin that the court upheld in 2005.

“There are very good reasons to be confident that the park displays do not violate any part of the First Amendment,” Justice Scalia said. “The city can safely exhale.”

Pleasant Grove Mayor Michael Daniels said he was “blown away” by the decision. “It’s one thing to have a decision in your favor, and it’s another to have a unanimous decision in your favor,” he said. “I think it sort of removes the cloud of doubt.”

Mr. Daniels said the city’s argument was that the park is meant to be about the historical events surrounding the city and its founding.

“A lot of people have looked at this as either free speech or establishment, but in our minds, it’s historical,” he said.

The Summum, a Latin term meaning the “sum total of all creation,” wants to erect its “Seven Aphorisms of Summum” monument in the city’s Pioneer Park. The group, formed in 1975, says the Seven Aphorisms were given to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the Ten Commandments. Moses destroyed the tablet containing the aphorisms because he saw the people weren’t ready for them, the Summum say.

The Ten Commandments marker, erected by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, is one of 15 permanent displays in the park.

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