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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a city park in Utah does not have to include a monument of a small religious sect even though it already features a Ten Commandments monument.

Summum, a Salt Lake City-based group, had argued that officials in Pleasant Grove City, Utah, violated its free speech rights when they did not permit a proposed monument of the group's beliefs.

The "placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech," wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the unanimous opinion, "and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause" of the First Amendment.

Jay Sekulow, the attorney who argued the case for the city, cheered the decision as a "great victory" for municipalities. He had argued that a decision against the city would have great ramifications, perhaps forcing a "Statue of Tyranny" to be erected near the "Statue of Liberty."

Alito said Summum had "derided" such fears. The justice, however, felt they were "well-founded." A town with a war memorial could have been forced to erect a monument questioning why veterans had fought in that war, Alito reasoned.

"This would have … changed the way local government landscaped their parks and communicated their messages," said Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Brian Barnard, an attorney representing Summum, said he still hopes the religious group can win its fight on other grounds and place its proposed "Seven Aphorisms" monument in the park.

"It's one round in the battle," he said, noting that the overall case is headed back to a hearing in a trial court.

He now expects to amend the case with an argument that Pleasant Grove City is violating the First Amendment's Establishment ...

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February 2009

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