“[A]lthough a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and
(events)…the placement of a permanent monument…is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.” -- Supreme Court decision, February 25, 2009, Pleasant Grove City, Urah v. Summum
Just because Allegany County commissioners approve display of the Ten Commandments monument (donated by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s) on the courthouse lawn, they are not obliged (under pressure from Jeffrey Davis, founder of the local Citizens for a Secular Government) to put up a companion monument to secularism.
A unanimous Supreme Court decision on February 25, 2009, ruled so in the case of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum.
Summum sued when Pleasant Grove City officials determined that the group’s proposal for a monument to its Seven Aphorisms didn’t fit the city’s guidelines for displaying monuments on public land, though a Ten Commandments monument (donated by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1971) stood.
Justice Samuel Alito writes in the court opinion that the city “explained that it limited Park monuments to those either directly related to the City’s history or donated by groups with longstanding community ties.”
Alito summarizes: “This case presents the question whether the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment entitles a private group to insist that a municipality permit it to place a permanent monument in a city park....”
The opinion concludes that “although a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and (events)…the placement of a permanent monument…is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.”
The court considers that since public monuments “commonly play an important role in defining the identity that a city projects to its own residents and to the outside world, entities rightly exercise discretion when accepting donated monuments to be placed on public property….”
Alito reflects on Summum’s notion of entitlement: “[W]hen France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884, this country (would have) had the option of either (a) declining France’s offer or (b) accepting the gift, but providing a comparable location in the harbor of New York for other statues of a similar size and nature (e.g., a Statue of Autocracy, if one had been offered by, say, the German Empire or Imperial Russia).”
He continues, in the same vein: “Every jurisdiction that has accepted a donated war memorial (could) be asked to provide equal treatment for a donated monument questioning the cause for which the veterans fought.”
Our county commissioners consented recently to consider guidelines for constructing a monument, to stand on the courthouse lawn, ostensibly to honor the U.S. Constitution, at the insistence of Davis and his irreligious group.
Davis threatened the county commissioners with a law suit in 2004 that resulted in the commissioners removing the Ten Commandments monument. In response to public outcry, they moved it back.
According to a Times-News article of Jan. 27, 2009 (“County OKs study into U.S. Constitution monument idea”), Davis has advocated for the secular monument since November 2007. He apparently threatened to sue the commissioners if they wouldn’t give him a go-ahead.
It seems, as reported in the Times-News article, that Davis proposes a 138-word inscription to include his own viewpoint that the U.S. Constitution is “a secular document that was intended to form a more perfect union and to protect the liberties of all its people.”
“Legally, he’s got the right to do it,” Commissioner Jim Stakem says in the Times-News article. Davis also is quoted in that article: “My preference…is, (that) they would not keep the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn. I don’t think...it belongs there.”
The Supreme Court disagrees.
Nancy E. Thoerig