WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court agreed March 31 to review a lower court decision that some allege could cause local governments to remove Ten Commandments displays or permit a plethora of other religious monuments.
The justices will consider the case in the next term, which begins in October.
The case involves a Utah city’s attempt to prevent a barely 30-year-old, religious-inner meditation sect from placing a monument of its principles next to a Ten Commandments exhibit in a public park. Pleasant Grove City denied the request. The sect, known as Summum, filed suit, alleging the city’s decision violated its federal free-speech rights, as well as the state’s protection of free expression and prohibition on establishment of religion.
In April 2007, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a federal judge and found the park was a public forum and the city had abridged Summum’s freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment. The judges ruled the violation of Summum’s First Amendment rights surpassed the potential harm to the city, which contended its park would be overwhelmed with monuments if the court sided with the sect.
After the 10th Circuit, which is based in Denver, rejected Pleasant Grove City’s request for a rehearing, the city appealed to the Supreme Court.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Pleasant Grove City, welcomed the high court’s action. The ACLJ contends the Ten Commandments monument in Pleasant Grove City has become government speech since the initial donation by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1971. Therefore, no forum for private speech exists, ACLJ says.
“Unlike in private speech cases, accepting a monument for permanent display as the government’s own property does not require accepting other monuments in the name of content or viewpoint neutrality,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a written release. “Nor does the government’s acceptance of a donated monument require that a government park be turned into a cluttered junkyard of monuments contributed by all comers. In short, accepting a Statue of Liberty does not compel a government to accept a Statue of Tyranny.”
The 10th Circuit was correct, Summum lawyer Brian Barnard said.
“It’s a matter of simple fairness,” Barnard said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “If you let one private group put up a monument in a public park, you have to let another private group put up a monument. You can’t pick and choose.”
The Utah cities of Salt Lake City and Ogden both removed Ten Commandments displays in order to prevent Summum from placing its monuments on city property.
The sect’s proposed monument in Pleasant Grove City would contain the Aphorisms of Summum, seven principles the sect says support all of creation. The group teaches these principles were a higher law that was inscribed on the first set of tablets brought down from Mount Sinai and broken by Moses. The Ten Commandments are lower laws, according to Summum, and were on the second set of tablets given to the Hebrews.
Corky Nowell, a former Mormon elder, founded Summum in 1975 after what he described as encounters with intelligent beings during meditation. Nowell is now known as Corky Ra.
Summum is the only organization in the world that provides mummification services, according to its website. Mummification, Summum’s website says, “lends itself … to cloning for the specific purpose of spiritual progression.”
Pleasant Grove City has a population of about 30,000 and is located in north central Utah.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.