Religion in Society

Supreme Court Rules Utah City Can Deny Some Religious Monuments

| by AUSCS

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wendesday that a Utah community does not have to erect a religious code from a group called Summum in a public park where the Ten Commandments are displayed.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the court made the right decision but urged that all permanent religious symbols be removed from government-owned parks.

“Government has no business erecting, maintaining or promoting religious symbols or codes,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The answer in this case is to remove the Ten Commandments from the public park, not compound the problem by adding more sectarian material.”

The case centered on Pleasant Grove City, Utah, which displays a Ten Commandments monument in a public park. A religious group called Summum sought the right to erect its “Seven Aphorisms” in the park as well. When city officials declined, Summum sued, arguing that its free-speech rights had been violated.

The Supreme Court analyzed the case under free-speech law, ruling 9-0 that it would be impractical to force communities to permanently erect every monument they are given.

Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case supporting neither side but urging the court to consider church-state separation. AU’s brief argued that these monuments are government speech that must respect the separation of church and state, a stance the court affirmed.

Lynn said the case should have been analyzed under church-state doctrine.

“No one expects that a community would be required to erect every symbol it is given,” Lynn said. “The question lurking below the surface is why government should have the right to display religious symbols and signs at all.”

Read the Opposing Views debate, "Should Religious Symbols be Displayed on Public Property?"