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Nov 12 2008
freedom of speech question in Utah park

This news article mentions a Supreme Court case I haven't heard of. Apparently, a religious sect called the Summums wants to erect a monument next to a Ten Commandments statue in a public park. They are claiming on free speech grounds that they have a right to do so. In defense of their refusal to allow it, the city is taking this approach:

In arguments on behalf of the city, the American Centre for Law and Justice maintains that because the city controls the park, monuments displayed there constitute government speech, not private speech. The park, in the Centre's argument, is not a forum for speech, so the city did not impermissibly discriminate against Summum. The centre argues that the city of Pleasant Grove "can speak in its own voice, without any concomitant constitutional duty to incorporate private speech into its message".

Actually, I agree with them. A public park is not automatically a place for free speech. As they say, the monuments there constitute "government speech, not private speech." BUT, that is precisely why the Ten Commandments statue they have put there is inappropriate. I'm surprised that the article doesn't even mention this.

In many other locations, government bodies have tried to protect their religious monuments from accusations that these are unconstitutional by claiming that they are in "free speech zones". It seems to me that Pleasant Grove, UT is admitting that this is not what they've done...the monument is not someone's "free speech" to promote their personal religion but the government actually doing it. Then, the solution is not to let the Summums put up their monument, but to take down the one that is already there!

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