AJC Says Underlying Issue in Utah Religious Monument Case Unresolved

February 25, 2009 – New York – AJC welcomed today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that a Utah town is not obligated to display every religious monument presented for installation in a public park, but expressed disappointment that the Court left unresolved key underlying issues in the case.

“If what is really behind the town’s refusal to display the monument was hostility towards a disfavored minority faith, then the Establishment Clause provided the proper recourse,” said Kara Stein, AJC’s Director of Legal Advocacy. “We are disappointed the Supreme Court did not analyze the case in that framework.”

The case, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, involved the town’s refusal to erect a monument containing the Seven Aphorisms of the Summum religion alongside the Ten Commandments in a park.

AJC joined with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other leading advocacy organizations in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court, taking issue with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the monument constitutes private speech.

“Permanent monuments erected on public property fall into the category of quintessential government speech,” stated the brief. Should such monuments amount to private speech subject to First Amendment free speech principles, a “take-one-take-all system” would have resulted, overwhelming local governments and parks with a flood of monuments.

However, the brief maintained that “whether or not Summum’s claim has merit, the Establishment Clause provides the relevant framework for adjudicating it.”

The New York Times, in an editorial last November, praised AJC and urged the Court to consider the Establishment Clause issue.

“The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has a bad record on Establishment Clause cases, which made it easier for all of the parties to treat the case as a simple speech case,” said the New York Times. “But as the American Jewish Committee, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other groups argue in a friend-of-the-court brief, the Supreme Court should not make this mistake. It should squarely confront the religious discrimination underlying Pleasant Grove City’s rejection of Summum’s monument and make clear that the city violated the Establishment Clause.” 

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