The Supreme Court decided Monday, March 31 to review the case of a 33-year-old religious organization that wants to have its tenets posted in a Utah municipal park near a monument of the Ten Commandments.
The justices will consider the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum after the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city should erect the church's "Seven Aphorisms" monument.
In their request for the high court's consideration, lawyers for the city said the appellate court's decision could "impose severe practical burdens on government entities" and affect their control of public land.
"The Supreme Court is faced with a dramatic opportunity: preserve sound precedent involving the well-established distinction between government speech and private speech or permit a twisted interpretation of the Constitution to create havoc in cities and localities across America," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, and the lawyer representing Pleasant Grove City.
The attorney representing Summum, which is based in Salt Lake City, was not available for comment.
The church was incorporated in 1975. According to its website, Moses received the "aphorisms that outlined principles underlying Creation and all of nature" during one trip to Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments on a second trip to the mountain.
Summum has called the city's denial of its request to erect the aphorisms monument a violation of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that religious monuments on public grounds are constitutional, but suggested they need to be displayed with other historical images or documents to avoid an overtly religious message.
Pioneer Park, the city park at the center of the case, includes an artifact from the Mormon Temple in Nauvoo, Ill., a 9/11 monument that was a Boy Scouts project and a Ten Commandments monument that was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1971.
The American Humanist Association, which has been critical of Ten Commandments monuments on public grounds, said conservative groups who support such monuments must make public space available for all.
"Now they must reap what they have sown," said AHA president Mel Lipman. "Either they get their monuments at the price of letting all others in, or they give them up they can't have it both ways."
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SCOTUSblog has several documents about the case.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is available online.
Other news coverage includes:
Tenet display dispute heads to high court | Justices to hear Utah city's appeal over exhibition of faith group's monolith (The Salt Lake Tribune)
Supreme Court to consider Ten Commandments vs. 'Seven Aphorisms' | Must a city park that displays one monument also permit others'? (Los Angeles Times)
With the Commandments, Must City Make Room? (The Washington Post)
U.S. Supreme Court takes a new 10 Commandments case | The Decalogue is on display in a public park in Utah. Is the park, therefore, a forum for expression of all types? (The Christian Science Monitor)
Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals approved a Ten Commandments monument outside the former City Hall in Everett, Washington.