Thursday, November 13, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For ... or ... The Law of Unintended Consequences

Supreme Court tackles Utah's monument display rules

For decades, Pleasant Grove, Utah, permitted a Ten Commandments monument and an array of historical artifacts amid the benches, trees and flowers of its Pioneer Park. Yet in 2003 when the Summum church asked to erect a monument displaying its core principles, "Seven Aphorisms," the city declined.

The city said it wanted only monuments that related to Pleasant Grove history or were donated by groups with long-standing ties to the community. That rejection spawned a case, at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, that could have ramifications for monuments across the country.
[...]
In a 1995 case, [Justice O'Connor] devised the current compromise standard. The court ruled Ohio could not keep the Ku Klux Klan from adding a Latin cross on Capitol grounds where other groups were allowed to put up a Christmas tree and menorah.
[...]
Summum, established in 1975, merges Egyptian customs, such as mummification, with elements of Gnostic Christianity that teach, for example, that spiritual knowledge is experiential. Summum followers believe that before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God handed down a stone tablet of seven aphorisms of a higher law.

Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative organization specializing in religion cases, represents Pleasant Grove. He says the city need not accept Summum's monument simply because it displays the others.
"Accepting a Statue of Liberty does not compel a government to accept a Statue of Tyranny," he told the justices in his brief.

Sekulow contends the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which ruled against Pleasant Grove, erred in considering Pioneer Park a "public forum" for private speech. He says the city was engaged in "government speech" as it selected permanent displays to convey its own themes and can choose among artifacts offered for its 2½-acre park in a historic district.
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[Pamela Harris, representing Summum] says Pleasant City cannot claim markers at the site are "government speech" because the city did not create their message. "The city did not control the content of the Ten Commandments monument when it was created; the Eagles did," she wrote.

Privately sponsored speech must be "allowed on equal terms" when governments create a public forum, Harris said, referring to O'Connor's test in the 1995 case.
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"Every park in the country that has accepted a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) memorial is now a public forum for the erection of permanent fixed monuments," [Judge Michael McConnell, an appointee of President Bush who previously was a prominent religious-law scholar] said. "They must either remove the war memorials or brace themselves for an influx of clutter."

Fourteen states and the federal government have urged the court to reverse the 10th Circuit decision. The U.S. Justice Department says that if the ruling stands it could affect national parks, which contain thousands of privately funded objects.

Nine municipalities, led by Casper, Wyo., urged the justices to adopt a "bright-line rule" that says when government accepts a donation of property, any resulting message becomes government speech. The municipalities contend the 10th Circuit decision could force a city to choose "between removing works it has accepted" or displaying works from private groups regardless of whether they "promote the common good."
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Conservative justices, including Antonin Scalia, have pressed for rules that would allow governments wider latitude to accept certain religious markers and to reject others. He wrote in the 1995 case that "government suppression of speech has so commonly been directed … at religious speech that a (constitutional) free-speech clause without religion would be Hamlet without the prince."
Hoist on their own retard!

Point by point:
The city said it wanted only monuments that related to Pleasant Grove history or were donated by groups with long-standing ties to the community - Umm, I'd say 33 years of a religion is both history and "long-standing ties to the community." Besides, who are the Mormons to reject another's religion!?

"Accepting a Statue of Liberty does not compel a government to accept a Statue of Tyranny" - Strawman anyone? Dude, we're talking about suppressing a religion you don't agree with, not building statues to Bush!

"Sekulow contends the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which ruled against Pleasant Grove, erred in considering Pioneer Park a "public forum" for private speech. He says the city was engaged in "government speech" as it selected permanent displays to convey its own themes" - In the first place, there is no such animal as 'government speech', there is only 'free speech' in the constitution.
In place the second, it is public land, it belongs to the people, and promoting one religion over another is unconstitutional, (see 'US Constitution; 1st Amendment'.)

"They must either remove the war memorials or brace themselves for an influx of clutter." - OMG, clutter!!! Won't someone think of the children!
If you didn't want 'clutter', you shouldn't have allowed certain select groups of private entities to raise monuments on OUR land.

And finally we (unfortunately) have JustUs [sic] Scalia:
"government suppression of speech has so commonly been directed … at religious speech ... - I wonder what mental backflips Scalia will have to perform to wind up ruling for Pleasant Grove?

The decision by the city to suppress the free speech and religious expression of Summum should not stand. At least according to previous rulings, as always INAL.

My personal opinion: If you want to donate money to a city to beautify a park, that's great. If you donate money only to erect a shrine to your cause in a public park, it shouldn't be allowed.

But once it's allowed, you have to make it available for all Americans.

It's called 'free speech' and 'freedom of religion.' You can look it up.

Bonus track:



Cross posted at VidiotSpeak