Supreme Court hears dispute over religious monument

Published 10:19 am Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — A small religious group’s fight to place a monument in a public park is at the center of a Supreme Court dispute over governments’ power to limit speech.

Pleasant Grove City, Utah, is asking the justices in arguments Wednesday to allow it to reject the donation of a display from the religious group known as Summum.

The Salt Lake City-based group wants to erect its “Seven Aphorisms of Summum” monument in the city’s Pioneer Park, which is home to a Ten Commandments monument that was donated in 1971 by another private group.

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The Summum argued, and a federal appeals court agreed, that Pleasant Grove can’t allow some private donations in its public park and reject others.

Arguments were to be heard by the Supreme Court at 10 a.m. Justices also are expected to issue their first ruling of the term in one of the cases that has been heard since the court term began Oct. 6.

In the religious monuments case, Pleasant Grove officials are supported by federal, state and city governments, plus veterans organizations.

They worry that a ruling for the Summum would allow almost anyone to erect a monument in a public park, including people with hateful points of view, or lead to the removal of war memorials and other longstanding displays.

The case appears to raise questions of government favoring one religion over another, which is prohibited by the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. But the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resolved the dispute on free speech grounds.

Some religious and civic groups want the justices to order the appeals court to review the case by looking at the religious freedoms issue.

The Summum say 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.