The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the sect of Summum can’t force Pleasant Grove City, Utah to add a religious monument of their own to a public park that already has one of the Ten Commandments in it.

The difference, according to the justices, is that the Ten Commandments have a connection to the history of the community. Such a blatant subordination of individual rights to the religious heritage of the majority is itself disconcerting, as is the notion that the government can adopt any religious monument as its own.

Justice Alito justified that sentiment by claiming that when government accepts such a gift, it is no longer individual expression, but rather government speech. The logic behind Alito’s argument is troubling on constitutional grounds: If Pleasant Grove City is claiming the Ten Commandments statue as its own speech, how is it not violating the Establishment Clause?

Although the case was argued on the grounds of free speech, not the separation of church and state, today’s ruling has clear (and dangerous) implications for the latter. It could also have a marked impact on Salazar v. Buono, a case out of California that will determine whether or not a large cross honoring fallen soldiers can remain on public lands, while a Buddhist shrine was not allowed to be built nearby.

Stay tuned, America.

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Showing 2 comments
  • jane

    I cannot agree with your interpretation of this ruling. It is well established law that no one can be forced to accept a gift. All this ruling has done is apply this time honored concept to the state as well. The facts here are critical to understand: The religious outfit offered to pay for a permanent monument to their faith. The city said “Thank you, no.”
    “But they didn’t say no to the other one(s).” OK- so? They also aren’t saying that the religious folks can’t make statements about their faith- they just can’t force the state to do it for them. Look at it the other way- do you really want a Flying Spaghetti Monster in every park in America? Because they could do it. All they need is a plaster cast and a meet-up group in any city they felt like spaghettiing.
    Please rethink the reaction to this and do not blow it out of proportion. I mean, if 4 sensible justices voted against it, there must be some good reasoning behind it. And it does rely of several hundred years of juris prudence.

  • Andrew

    This case is not easy. Jane makes a good point that no body should ever be forced to accept a gift. This is what I’m thinking, however. Somewhere around the eleventh century a group of Syriac Christians in China received imperial approval to erect a monument to their religion. It was a huge victory for those Christians, because it meant that a group whose population was a slim minority in the empire got recognition that their religion was not crazy and deserved respect. On the other hand, not sanctioning the monument would have been a rejection of those Christian’s respectability. To me the question comes down to this: should the municipalities of the United States be in the business of deciding who is respectable and who is a crazy sect? The statement that public monuments become state speech really implies that this decision is being made.

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