Pleasant Grove v. Summum: Losing the Battle to Win the War

Volume 95

95 Va. L. Rev. Online 43
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In February, the Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in a case that represents the first step in a well calculated attack on the conservative wing’s efforts to conflate Establishment Clause doctrine with Free Speech analysis. The case, Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum, pitted a Salt Lake City church headed by Summum Ra against the city of Pleasant Grove in a fight over monuments displayed in a public park. For over thirty years, a monument of the Ten Commandments—originally donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles—has stood in the city’s Pioneer Park. In 2003, and again in 2005, Summum asked Pleasant Grove also to display a monument dedicated to the “Seven Aphorisms of Summum” on park grounds. The city rejected Summum’s request, claiming that monuments in the park must have some significant connection to Pleasant Grove’s civic history. Summum, however, argued that, by opening Pioneer Park to privately donated monuments, the city has created a public forum for free expression purposes and cannot now discriminate against donations based on their content. In a forceful display of unanimity from a Court that might have fractured along a number of doctrinal lines, Summum lost—for now.

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