Richard Wade here.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah does not have to allow a little known religious group called Summum to install their privately funded monument in the city park, despite the fact that there is already a Ten Commandments monument there.
From the New York Times: (emphasis mine)
The case is of keen interest to local and state officials across the country for several reasons. Not least is that officials have been concerned about what kinds of markers and monuments, if any, they might be forced to allow in public areas. And while the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, No. 07-665, involves religion, the real issue was free speech, not the separation of church and state.
The Summum group has contended that the Pleasant Grove City officials were no more entitled to discriminate among private monuments donated to a public park than they were entitled to forbid speeches and leaflets advocating viewpoints that they found unpalatable.
But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court, said the arguments embraced by Summum were not really the right way to look at the case. The core issue is not private speech in a public forum but, rather, the power of government to express itself, in this case by selecting which monuments to have in a public park, Justice Alito wrote.
“The Free Speech Clause restricts government regulation of private speech,” Justice Alito noted, referring to a clause in the First Amendment. “It does not regulate government speech.”
While a government entity is quite limited in its ability to regulate or restrict private speech in traditional public forums, like parks, the government entity “is entitled to say what it wishes,” Justice Alito wrote, citing earlier Supreme Court rulings. If the people do not like what their government officials say or stand for, they can vote them out of office, he wrote.
So, what do you think? Is this not at all a church/state issue but only a free speech issue? The court has said that a local government cannot limit the free speech of minority groups in such forms as standing on a soap box or handing out fliers, but it can exercise its own freedom of speech by picking and choosing the views it favors in monuments. So, is it spoken words or paper = free and unrestricted, while marble or cement = government favored only? What do you think the ramifications of this will be? Will, for instance, a city or state government’s “free speech” and therefore its discretion about religious displays spread beyond small town parks to government buildings? Will government’s ability “to express itself” enable it to require one kind of religious ritual over another in government proceedings?
So I guess the large marble statue of the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I’m carving will not be installed in my home town central park any time soon.