Monday, June 7, 2010

No Establishment Clause Violation in Summum

           The Utah district court ruled that there was no Establishment Clause violation in Pleasant Grove City's decision denying the Summum Religion's request to display its Seven Aphorisms monument alongside the Ten Commandments. Summum had already lost its free speech case in the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that the commandments were government speech. Under free speech law, the government was free to control its message and did not have to accept alternative monuments. Because the Supreme Court did not address whether it violates the Establishment Clause for the government to promote the Ten Commandments over the Seven Aphorisms, however, the district court had the opportunity to address the issue.
          The district court order's does not withstand critical scrutiny. The court claimed that Summum never explained its religious views when it asked that its monument be displayed alongside the Ten Commandments. The court also decided to believe the city officials who testified that they were completely ignorant of Summum’s religious tenets, teachings, beliefs or practices when they refused the display, and to credit the mayor's testimony that the Ten Commandments monument was installed to remind citizens of their pioneer heritage in the founding of the state. In other words, the court concluded, the Ten Commandments are displayed for historical and not religious reasons. The court also ruled that the City complied with its own policy in rejecting Summum's display--even though that policy was written in response to Summum's request, as a way of keeping the Seven Aphorisms from being displayed. 
          So, according to the court, no one in Utah knew that Summum was a religion, Utah was founded on the Ten Commandments (instead of, e.g., the Book of Mormon), and the Ten Commandments are not religious. 

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