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In 1971, the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated a Ten Commandments monument to the City of Pleasant Grove, Utah. The city government put the monument in Pioneer Park.

So whose monument is it? Whose message is on the monument? The Fraternal Order of Eagles's? Or the government of Pleasant Grove's?

That's basically the question the Supreme Court took up today.

Actually, the case isn't precisely about Ten Commandments displays, and court watchers don't expect the justices to significantly reconsider its crazy and confusing Ten Commandments rulings from 2005. Rather, it is supposedly about another display: that of Summum "Corky" Ra, the leader of a small Gnostic sect based in Salt Lake City. He wants his "Seven Aphorisms" displayed in the park, too.

Ra says that by posting the Ten Commandments, Pleasant Grove turned Pioneer Park into a public forum. And in a public forum, when you allow one private message, you have to open it up to all comers. Excluding the Seven Aphorisms, he says, amounts to restricting free speech.

But the Ten Commandments is not private speech, Pleasant Grove says. It is government speech, and with government speech you don't have to offer opposing viewpoints. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and said the monument was indeed private speech rather than government speech.

It sounds like a big church-state case, but whatever the Supreme Court decides, it probably won't affect church-state issues all that much. Both sides agree that this is really a free-speech case, not a religion case. Then again, a huge number of the oral arguments this morning focused on whether the Ten Commandments display itself violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, not whether leaving out the Summum display violates ...

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November 2008

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