WASHINGTON– LAWFUEL -The US Legal Newswire – The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), specializing in constitutional law, today asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review and overturn a lower court decision that could force local governments across the country either to dismantle a host of monuments, memorials, and other displays including long-standing patriotic and historical displays or else let all comers install privately owned monuments or displays, regardless of content. The ACLJ today filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum.
“This is a critically important case that gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to rectify a lower court’s very twisted interpretation of the First Amendment,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, which represents Pleasant Grove in the case. “The lower court’s decision misses the crucial distinction between government speech and private speech. The government has to be neutral toward private speech, but it does not have to be neutral in its own speech. For example, a government cannot censor anti-patriotic speech, but that doesn’t mean the government itself has to utter unpatriotic messages. The Tenth Circuit confused this rule when it said private parties have a First Amendment right to put up the monuments of their choosing in a city park, unless the city takes away all other donated monuments. This ruling, if left unchecked, would ultimately force local governments to remove long-standing and well established patriotic, religious and historical displays. The ramifications of this flawed decision go well beyond Utah and affect every American city and town. It’s time for the Supreme Court to step in and bring an end to a dangerous interpretation of free speech and equal access.”
In August 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit split 6-6 over a request for the full appeals court to rehear two cases involving demands that the Utah cities of Pleasant Grove City and Duchesne City erect monuments containing the “Seven Aphorisms” of a group called Summum. The federal appeals court had ruled in favor of Summum in both cases, saying the group could insist upon erecting its own “Seven Aphorisms” monument in the city parks because the cities already displayed monuments of the Ten Commandments which were donated decades ago.
In its petition asking the high court to take the case involving Pleasant Grove (posted at www.aclj.org), the ACLJ says the 10th Circuit decision conflicts with decisions of other circuits, badly distorts First Amendment jurisprudence, and “will impose severe practical burdens on government entities . . .”
The ACLJ also contends that the lower court made a serious error confusing government speech with private speech. The ACLJ petition states:
“When private speakers have the right to use government property to speak, there is a speech forum. But when, as here, the donor cedes and the government accepts ownership and control of something from a private party, that ‘something’ is no longer private property. It becomes government property. And if it is a message-bearing ‘something,’ any communication thenceforth is government speech, not private speech. No ‘forum’ for private speech is created.”
“Unlike in private speech cases, 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,” the brief adds. “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. In short, accepting a Statue of Liberty does not compel a government to accept a Statue of Tyranny.”
The ACLJ contends that the decision by the appeals court “threatens to wreak havoc upon governments at every level and their ability to control the permanent physical occupation of government land.”
The ACLJ urges the high court to take the case and contends that unless the lower court decision is overturned, cities and states will be forced to face a troubling choice – remove long-standing monuments – or permit any group to display any monument in public places. The brief notes that “a host of federal, state, and local government bodies are now sitting targets for demands that they grant ‘equal access’ to whatever comparable monuments a given group wishes to have installed, be it Summum’s Seven Aphorisms, an atheist group’s Monument to Freethought, or Rev. Fred Phelps’s denunciation of homosexual persons.”
The case is Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. The ACLJ also plans to file a separate Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the case involving Duchesne City, Utah.
Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice specializes in constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C. The ACLJ is online at www.aclj.org.