25 February 2009

pleasant grove city, utah v summum

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american center for law and justice press release:
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States today issued a landmark First Amendment ruling clearing the way for governments to accept permanent monuments of their choosing in public parks.

The decision comes in the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, a critical First Amendment case in which the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) represented the Utah city in a challenge to a display of the Ten Commandments in a city park.

This decision represents a resounding victory for government speech. The decision gives government the right to speak for itself and the ability to communicate on behalf of its citizens. It's a significant decision that clears the way for government to express its views and its history through the selection of monuments - including religious monuments and displays. This decision also puts a bookend on the litigation surrounding the display of the Ten Commandments that's been taking place for years across the country.

The critical question before the Court was, ''Can a city decide which permanent, unattended monuments, if any, to install on city property?'' Without dissent, the Court said ''Yes.'' We're delighted that the Court upheld the important distinction between government speech and private speech.

The ACLJ asked the high court to overturn a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that ordered Pleasant Grove City, UT, to accept and display a monument from a self-described church called Summum because the city displays a Ten Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

In a 9-0 decision announced by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court concluded: ''In sum, we hold that the City's decision to accept certain privately donated monuments while rejecting respondent's is best viewed as a form of government speech. As a result, the City's decision is not subject to the Free Speech Clause, and the Court of Appeals erred in holding otherwise. We therefore reverse.''

The high court concluded that the government has the right to speak for itself without violating the Constitution. ''The Free Speech Clause restricts government regulation of private speech; it does not regulate government speech ... A government entity has the right to 'speak for itself'.... it is not easy to imagine how government could function if it lacked this freedom ... A government entity may exercise this same freedom to express its views when it receives assistance from private sources for the purpose of delivering a government-controlled message.''

The ACLJ contended that the Tenth Circuit made a serious error confusing government speech with private speech. In its briefs, the ACLJ argues that ''a city's selection of which items to display in a park - like its selection of decorations for government buildings - is government speech, and no private entity can claim a 'Me too!' right of access for its own preferred displays.''