Jun 23, 2008

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision dealing with a controversy over the display of religious monuments in a Utah public park.

The case, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, concerns an effort by a religious group called Summum to have its “Seven Aphorisms” displayed in a public park in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Summum argues that it should have the right to permanently display its religious code in Pleasant Grove City’s Pioneer Park because the public land already contains a Ten Commandments monument and other items.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Summum on free-speech grounds. But Americans United and its allies argue that the case should really be looked at as a church-state controversy.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the case raises an important conflict over the value of religious neutrality.

“It’s not the government’s job to display the symbols of any faith,” Lynn said. “When government officials allow religious groups to place permanent monuments on public land, the government is accountable for the message.

“Our government,” he continued, “should not -- and, under our Constitution, may not -- pick-and-choose among religions. This principle stands at the very heart of church-state separation.”

The AU brief asserts that government cannot play favorites among religions and deny a minority religious request because of discomfort with the less-known religious views.

“Religion plays so central a role in civic as well as personal identity in American society that when government associates itself with, or expresses a preference for, any denomination, it marks those of other faiths with a badge of inferiority just as insidious as when government prefers one race to another,” asserts the brief.

The brief was prepared by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan, AU Assistant Legal Director Richard Katskee and AU Madison Fellow Jessica Wolland, in consultation with attorneys affiliated with allied religious and civil liberties groups.

Joining Americans United on the brief are the American Jewish Committee, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, People For the American Way Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League.