Justices agree to take free speech cases on religious monument, union payroll deductions
By PETE YOST
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to step into two free speech cases, one involving a church that wants to place a religious monument in a park and the other on payroll deductions for labor union political activity.
Officials in Pleasant Grove City, Utah, asked the court to step into the lawsuit brought by the religious group known as Summum, saying that if the group prevails, governments would be inundated with demands to display donated monuments.
The dispute stems from Pleasant Grove City’s refusal to allow the display of a "Seven Aphorisms of Summum" monument in the same park that is the home for a Ten Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles 47 years ago.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in favor of the church, saying the monument remains the private speech of the donor and that the park is a public forum.
The conservative American Center for Law and Justice is representing Pleasant Grove City in the case.
"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 ACLJ.
Summum’s attorney, Brian Barnard of the Utah Legal Clinic, said the group is deliberately trying to pair its monument with one promoting the Ten Commandments, which also factor prominently in the religion.
"Summum says, ’Our Seven Aphorisms are comparable and complimentary to the Ten Commandments, so please let us put ours up,"’ Barnard said. "It’s a matter of simple fairness."
Summum, a Latin term meaning the sum total of all creation, was founded in 1975 and is headquartered in Salt Lake City. The Seven Aphorisms refer to a notion that when Moses received stone tablets on Mount Sinai inscribed with writings made by a divine being, he actually received two separate sets of tablets — the Seven Aphorisms and the Ten Commandments.
Pleasant Grove City Mayor Michael W. Daniels said the city’s objection is not with the content or placing of the monument, but with the precedent it could set.
"It’s about not letting just anyone walk in and say, ’Because you have this, we have a right to put this up,"’ Daniels said. "Summum was pretty much demanding — and by law, trying to sue us — to allow their particular monument to come into our park."
The case is Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 07-665.
In the other case the court agreed to take, the justices stepped into a dispute between the state of Idaho and labor unions over payroll deductions for political activities.
The state asked the justices to take the case, which involves an Idaho law that prohibits cities, counties and school districts from making payroll deductions for donations to political candidates or parties.
Five labor unions and the Idaho state AFL-CIO successfully challenged part of the law in the lower federal courts.
A federal judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco concluded that local units of government and school districts could choose to stop making the payroll deductions, but that the state could not force them to do so.
"Payroll deduction should not be a constitutionally protected right," said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, which filed court papers in the case. "We feel it’s bad public policy to have government bodies essentially be bagmen for union political monies."
Associated Press reporter Ace Stryker in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.