U.S. Supreme Court takes a new 10 Commandments case

The Decalogue is on display in a public park in Utah. Is the park, therefore, a forum for expression of all types?

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Public displays of the Ten Commandments have long been a magnet for litigation. But a US appeals court in Denver has put a new twist on the issue.

Last year, the court told a city in Utah that since it allows the display of a Ten Commandments monument in a public park it must also allow followers of the Summum religion to erect a similar monument displaying the "Seven Aphorisms of Summum."

The ruling prompted an outcry by state and local officials and veterans who warn that the appeals court decision will force cities to either remove all monuments from public property or accept all privately donated monuments – including displays that might be offensive to residents.

Recommended: You ranked them: 10 top stories in America in 2013

On Monday, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case next fall to decide what restrictions, if any, cities and towns may enforce against the placement of private monuments on public property.

The controversy began in 2005 when the mayor of Pleasant Grove City, Utah, was contacted by the president of the Salt Lake City-based Summum church, who requested permission to erect the "seven aphorisms" monument near the city's Ten Commandments monument in Pioneer Park.

The Summum church teaches that the seven aphorisms were on the first stone tablets brought by Moses from Mount Sinai. According to the Bible, Moses smashed the first tablets. The Ten Commandments were later delivered on a second set of tablets.

When the city refused permission, the group sued. The church alleged that the city's refusal to allow a Summum monument violated First Amendment free speech protections.

A federal judge ruled for the city, but a three-judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals found for the church.

The case turns on what kind of speech the monument dispute implies. Does the Ten Commandments display involve private speech in an open forum – like individuals expressing their opinions in a town meeting? Or is the permanent placement of a Ten Commandments monument on public land a form of government speech that is not open to everyone?

The Ten Commandments monument was donated in 1971 by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles. The appeals court ruled that the monument was a form of private speech by the Eagles being communicated in a public forum – Pioneer Park. Because a public forum exists there, the city could not prevent others from participating by erecting their own monuments, the appeals court reasoned.

When the full 10th Circuit heard the case, it split on the issue, and the decision against the city stood.

In a dissent, Judge Michael McConnell warned of dire consequences if the appeals court decision was not overturned. "Every park in the country that has accepted a VFW memorial is now a public forum for the erection of permanent fixed monuments; they must either remove the war memorials or brace themselves for an influx of clutter," he wrote.

Judge McConnell's warning continued: "A city that accepted the donation of a statue honoring a local hero could be forced under the panel's rulings, to allow a local religious society to erect a Ten Commandments monument – or for that matter, a cross, a nativity scene, a statue of Zeus, or a Confederate flag."

In urging the high court to take up the case, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice says it was government speech when city officials placed the Ten Commandments monument in the park.

Accepting a monument for permanent display as the government's own property does not require accepting other monuments in the name of content – or viewpoint neutrality," Mr. Sekulow wrote in his brief on behalf of Pleasant Grove. "Nor does the government's acceptance of a donated monument require that a government park be turned into a cluttered junkyard of monuments contributed by all comers."

Lawyers for the Summum church say the public outcry is Pleasant Grove's fault. The city adopted a written policy permitting the display of privately donated monuments in public parks. Under those circumstances, the court found that donated monuments were part of a public forum. Once a public forum is established, government may not discriminate against other speakers, they say.

"Far from the radical and far-reaching decision described by [the city], the decision below is in fact narrow and limited in scope," writes Washington lawyer Pamela Harris in her brief on behalf of the church.

In a friend of the court brief, the city of Casper, Wyo., urged the high court to take up the case and reverse the 10th Circuit decision. The city said the appeals court decision had placed Casper in a "terrible dilemma."

Casper is the hometown of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was tied to a fence, beaten, and then left to die near Laramie, Wyo., in October 1998. The case became a national symbol of bigotry and violence against homosexuals. It also became an antigay rallying cry of Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Mr. Phelps is attempting to use the 10th Circuit decision to force the city of Casper, where Mr. Shepard is interred, to erect a Matthew Shepard monument near the Ten Commandments monument in a city park.

The Phelps monument would read: "MATTHEW SHEPARD Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God's Warning 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.' Lev. 18:22."

"Now the city confronts a dilemma," writes Patrick Gillen of the Chicago-based Fidelis Center for Law and Policy, in his brief for the City of Casper. Does the fact that the city has a Ten Commandments monument mean that it must now incorporate Pastor Phelps's monument? he asks.

"The city dreads the answer for reasons any person who values civility can easily understand," Mr. Gillen writes.

The case is Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (07-665).

Summum: Who they are

The Summum, which means “highest or greatest” in Latin, were founded in Utah in 1975 by Claude Nowell, who goes by the name Corky Ra.

Summum followers meditate on creation and aspects of creation that individuals retain. They claim they follow the teachings of Gnostic Christianity and believe that meditation leads to revelation.

Source: The Summum, www.summum.us/summum.shtml

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.




eZ debug

Clear cache:

Quick settings:

Timing: Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Script start
Timing: Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Module start 'content'
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl:10[1] Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Variable 'story_source' is already defined.
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Timing: Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Module end 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Before parse_includes
Strict: PHP: E_STRICT Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Non-static method MugoViewExtras::get_view_extras() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/mugo_view_extras/autoloads/template_operators.php on line 37
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/extra/archive.tpl:21[1] Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
Variable 'view_extra_node' is already defined.
Timing: Jul 09 2014 11:51:44
After parse_includes
Timing: Jul 09 2014 11:51:44

Timing points:

CheckpointElapsedRel. ElapsedMemoryRel. Memory
Script start 0.0000 sec0.0127 sec 1,285.5469 KB1,162.0938 KB
Module start 'content' 0.0127 sec1.5628 sec 2,447.6406 KB11,670.4766 KB
Module end 'content' 1.5755 sec0.0178 sec 14,118.1172 KB393.9766 KB
Before parse_includes 1.5933 sec0.0492 sec 14,512.0938 KB273.9531 KB
After parse_includes 1.6426 sec0.0010 sec 14,786.0469 KB-182.3281 KB
End 1.6436 sec  14,603.7188 KB 
Total runtime:1.6518 sec
Peak memory usage:21,038.9688 KB

Time accumulators:

 Accumulator Elapsed Percent Count Average
Load cache0.0072 sec0.4338%360.0002 sec
Mysql Total
Mysqli_queries0.1530 sec9.2478%2220.0007 sec
Looping result0.0401 sec2.4228%2150.0002 sec
Template Total1.5970 sec 96.5% 8 0.1996 sec
Template load0.0089 sec0.5391%80.0011 sec
Template processing1.5878 sec95.9881%80.1985 sec
Template load and register function0.0004 sec0.0229%40.0001 sec
state_id_array0.0082 sec0.4986%150.0005 sec
state_identifier_array0.0108 sec0.6548%220.0005 sec
Cache load0.0072 sec0.4376%1140.0001 sec
eZ Find
Search0.2502 sec15.1248%20.1251 sec
Query build0.0059 sec0.3538%10.0059 sec
Class attribute list0.0780 sec4.7159%10.0780 sec
Engine time0.0352 sec2.1299%10.0352 sec
MoreLikeThis0.0000 sec0.0000%00.0000 sec
Sytem overhead
Fetch class attribute name0.0012 sec0.0740%60.0002 sec
Fetch class attribute can translate value0.0013 sec0.0799%30.0004 sec
Instantiating content class attribute0.0000 sec0.0027%60.0000 sec
Image XML parsing0.0023 sec0.1373%30.0008 sec
String conversion0.0000 sec0.0010%30.0000 sec
dbfile0.0014 sec0.0817%360.0000 sec
View Extra building0.0126 sec0.7641%40.0032 sec
Total script time:1.6542 sec

CSS/JS files loaded with "ezjscPacker" during request:


Templates used to render the page:

UsageRequested templateTemplateTemplate loadedEditOverride
1node/view/full.tplfull/article.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/full/article.tplEdit templateOverride template
27content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tpl<No override>extension/ezwebin/design/ezwebin/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezimage.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezimage.tplEdit templateOverride template
24content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezstring.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/head1.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/head1.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezmatrix.tplcontent/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplEdit templateOverride template
1pagelayout.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/pagelayout.tplEdit templateOverride template
1modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tpl<No override>extension/mugo_view_extras/design/standard/templates/modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tplEdit templateOverride template
1setup/debug_toolbar.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/setup/debug_toolbar.tplEdit templateOverride template
 Number of times templates used: 62
 Number of unique templates used: 13
 Time used to render template usage: 0.0006 secs