Pleasant Grove City v. Summum - Wikipedia

Pleasant Grove City v. Summum
Argued November 12, 2008
Decided February 25, 2009
Full case namePleasant Grove City, Utah, et al. v. Summum
Docket no.07-665
Citations555 U.S. 460 (more)
129 S. Ct. 1125; 172 L. Ed. 2d 853; 2009 U.S. LEXIS 1636; 77 U.S.L.W. 4136; 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 648
A municipality's acceptance and acquisition of a privately funded permanent monument erected in a public park while refusing to accept other privately funded permanent memorials is a valid expression of governmental speech.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy · David Souter
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Case opinions
MajorityAlito, joined by Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer
ConcurrenceStevens, joined by Ginsburg
ConcurrenceScalia, joined by Thomas
ConcurrenceSouter (in judgment)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 555 U.S. 460 (2009), is a decision from the Supreme Court of the United States which ruled on the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on a government establishment of religion specifically with respect to monuments (e.g., statues) on public land.


In this case, the United States Supreme Court considered whether the municipality of Pleasant Grove, Utah, which allows privately donated monuments, including one of the Ten Commandments, to be displayed on public property, must also let the Summum church put up its own statue, similar in size to the one of the Ten Commandments.

According to the New York Times: "In 2003, the president of the Summum church wrote to the mayor here with a proposal: the church wanted to erect a monument inscribed with the Seven Aphorisms in the city park, 'similar in size and nature' to the one devoted to the Ten Commandments. The city declined, a lawsuit followed and a federal appeals court ruled that the First Amendment required the city to display the Summum monument."[1]

The Supreme Court's decision was expected to be the most important establishment clause decision of the term. Some court-watchers believed the Court would rule that the United States Constitution does not allow government to favor one religion over another.[2]

Arguing for the petitioner (the City of Pleasant Grove) was Jay Alan Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), and for the Summum, attorney Pamela Harris of the firm O’Melveny & Myers. The ACLJ argued that there should be a distinction between government speech and private speech and though the government should have the right to display the 10 Commandments, it should not have to endorse all private speech.[3]


On February 25, 2009, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Summum in the Pleasant Grove case. Justice Samuel Alito, in his opinion for the court, explained that a municipality's acceptance and acquisition of a privately funded permanent monument erected in a public park, while refusing to accept other privately funded permanent memorials, is a valid expression of governmental speech, which is permissible and not an unconstitutional interference with the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.

According to Alito, "the display of a permanent monument in a public park" is perceived by an ordinary and reasonable observer to be an expression of values and ideas of the government, the owner of the park and the monument, even though the particular idea expressed by the monument is left to the interpretation of the individual observer.

Alito made a clear distinction between forms of private speech in public parks, such as rallies and temporary holiday displays (Christmas trees and menorahs), and the government speech represented by permanent monuments. He opined that even long winded speakers eventually go home with their leaflets, and holiday displays are taken down; but, permanent monuments endure, and are obviously associated with their owners.

Alito wrote, "cities and other jurisdictions take some care in accepting donated monuments." While Summum attempted to persuade the Court that preventing governments from selecting monuments on the basis of content would be tenable, Justice Alito noted that such a situation could put government in the position of accepting permanent monuments with conflicting messages, that do not represent the values and ideals of the community, or removing all monuments from public space. He questioned whether, if the law followed the view expressed by Summum, New York City would have been required to accept a Statue of Autocracy from the German Empire or Imperial Russia when it accepted the Statue of Liberty from France.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Liptak, Adam (November 10, 2008). "From Tiny Sect, Weighty Issue for Justices". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
  2. ^ "The Supreme Court's New Term". New York Times. 2008-10-06.
  3. ^ "In the Courts". ACLJ. 2008-11-09. Archived from the original on 2008-01-14.
  4. ^ "Supreme Court rules against Summum in Ten Commandments case". Salt Lake Tribune. 2009-02-25. Retrieved 2014-12-26.

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