Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Summum Loses Monument Bid Again-- This Time In Utah Supreme Court

Since 2003, Summum has been attempting to require Pleasant Grove City, Utah to accept a "Seven Aphorisms" monument to be placed in a city park where a Ten Commandments monument already stands.  In litigation, part of which went to the U.S. Supreme Court, federal courts held that the city had violated neither the 1st Amendment's free speech or Establishment clause in refusing the monument.  Summum then filed suit in state court contending that the Utah Constitution's religious liberty clause requires the city to erect the Seven Aphorisms monument.  In Summum v. Pleasant Grove City, (UT Sup. Ct., Jan. 30, 2015). the Utah Supreme Court rejected Summum's contention. The Court, emphasizing that Summum had not asked for it to order the removal of the Ten Commandments monument, held that monuments are different than sectarian prayers before city council. The neutrality test the Court had developed in the context of legislative prayer does not apply to public monuments:
[R]equiring Pleasant Grove to erect a second religious monument would not render the allocation of public property and money to the two monuments neutral. The citizens of Pleasant Grove, and Utah in general, undoubtedly espouse a broad variety of religious views.... Displaying monuments that communicate the beliefs of only two of these viewpoints would not amount to an impartial distribution of public property.... And because there is a finite amount of space in Pioneer Park, allowing all interested groups to install their own religious or antireligious monuments in the park would be unworkable.... 
Because the government property at issue in this case is itself the message, it cannot be allocated in an impartial manner.... Summum attempts to use the neutrality test as a tool to facilitate the placement of its own proposed monument in Pioneer Park. It argues that the district court should order the installation of a Seven Aphorisms monument in order to establish an impartial allocation of public property towards religious expression in the park. But because the neutrality test does not apply in the context of public monuments, this tool is unavailable to Summum.
Justice Lee filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.