February 2009
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The government has speech rights too.

What?  You dont want ithis/i guys monument in your park?

What? You don't want *this* guy's monument in your park?

The United States Supreme Court this week announced that a city’s government has a right to decide which donated monuments to display on municipal property (source).  Justice Alito, writing for a unanimous Court, said that placement of a permanent marker on public grounds represents a type of government speech. As such, the government gets to pick the message.

The dispute began when a member of the Summum religion (which adopts Egyptian customs, such as mummification, with elements of Gnostic Christianity that teach spiritual knowledge is experiential) proposed that a monument to their “Seven Aphorisms” should be placed alongside an existing “Ten Commandments” monument.  The city declined to accept the “donation,” and the “donor” sued, asserting a violation of their free speech rights. The Tenth Circuit agreed, and the dispute made it all the way to the High Court.

The Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s reasoning, which asserted that placing a monument in a public park was analogous to making a speech in an open forum.  Alito states that the display of a permanent monument is not the same as a transitory expressive act, such as giving a speech or staging a protest.

He went on to explain what might happen if municipalities were forced to put up every proposed statue, in the name of “equal” treatment:

“Every jurisdiction that has accepted a donated war memorial may be asked to provide equal treatment for a donated monument questioning the cause for which the veterans fought.  New York City, having accepted a donated statue of one heroic dog (Balto, the sled dog who brought medicine to Nome, Alaska, during a diphtheria epidemic) may be pressed to accept monuments for other dogs who are claimed to be equally worthy of commemoration.”

You can find the full text of the opinion here.

This story was originally published on The Legal Satyricon.

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