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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?

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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."

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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,