Pleasant Grove v. Summum

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Pleasant Grove City v. Summum is a landmark First Amendment ruling. All the more so for modern era United States Supreme Court decisions because it was unanimous.

PLEASANT GROVE CITY, UTAH, ET AL. v. SUMMUM

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT
No. 07–665.
Argued November 12, 2008—Decided February 25, 2009

Pioneer Park (Park), a public park in petitioner Pleasant Grove City(City), has at least 11 permanent, privately donated displays, including a Ten Commandments monument. In rejecting the request of respondent Summum, a religious organization, to erect a monument containing the Seven Aphorisms of Summum, the City explained that it limited Park monuments to those either directly related to the City’s history or donated by groups with longstanding community ties. After the City put that policy and other criteria into writing, respondent renewed its request, but did not describe the monument’s historical significance or respondent’s connection to the community. The City rejected the request, and respondent filed suit, claiming that the City and petitioner officials had violated the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause by accepting the Ten Commandments monument but rejecting respondent’s proposed monument. The District Court denied respondent’s preliminary injunction request, but the Tenth Circuit reversed. Noting that it had previously found the Ten Commandments monument to be private rather than government speech and that public parks have traditionally been regarded as public forums, the court held that, because the exclusion of the monument was unlikely to survive strict scrutiny, the City was re-quired to erect it immediately.

Held: The placement of a permanent monument in a public park is a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause. Pp. 4–18. (a) Because that Clause restricts government regulation of private speech but not government speech, whether petitioners were engaging in their own expressive conduct or providing a forum for private speech determines which precedents govern here. [1]

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