February 25, 2009
In the wake of today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 07-665, the American Humanist Association announced it has been given just what it needs to pursue the removal of Ten Commandments monuments on public property all over America.
“The unanimous decision of the Court is clear,” said Bob Ritter, legal coordinator for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association. “A permanent monument owned by a government entity and located in a public park is a form of government speech. Given this, such a monument isn’t permitted to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And we humanists are ready to argue that Ten Commandments monuments in U.S. public parks are unconstitutional government endorsements of religion.”
Justice Samuel Alito, in his opinion on behalf of the majority, wrote: “government speech must comport with the Establishment Clause. The involvement of public officials in advocacy may be limited by law, regulation, or practice.”
“Like the proposed Summum monument, Ten Commandments monuments show government preference for certain religious views over others and thus exclude a significant body of citizens,” added Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Government needs to be religiously neutral in regard to the permanent monuments it places on the people’s property.”
Ritter concluded, “On November 12 we predicted that the Supreme Court would reverse the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and hold that city parks are not public forums for donated permanent displays. But we further asked the Court to send the case back to the district court for argument on whether the Eagles donated Ten Commandments monolith in Pioneer Park violates the Establishment Clause. They didn’t do the latter, so now we will have to take our own legal action or assist Summum if it amends its complaint to allege an Establishment Clause violation.”
According to the friend of the court brief filed in the case by the American Humanist Association and six other organizations, “By itself, the text of the Ten Commandments sends an overwhelmingly religious message, and the context in which the monument is displayed [in Pioneer Park] only heightens the effect of government endorsement of this message.” The brief also addressed the preference given by Pleasant Grove to the Judeo-Christian faiths. “The display of the Ten Commandments sends the message to nonadherents of Judeo-Christian religions that they are not full members of the political community….Although the Supreme Court has characterized a nearly identical Ten Commandments monument as nothing more than ‘acknowledgement’ of the role played by religion, there is no principled or neutral way to decide which beliefs are deserving of the government’s ‘acknowledgment’ and which are not.”
The friend of the court brief further argued against allowing the Summum religious group to display its aphorisms in Pioneer Park, stating: “The goal of government neutrality toward religion can only be achieved with equal regard for majority and minority beliefs by ensuring that the wall separating church and state is ‘kept high and impregnable’” (quoting Everson v. Board of Education (1947)). The organizations that signed onto this brief were the American Humanist Association, American Ethical Union, Atheist Alliance International, Institute for Humanist Studies, Secular Student Alliance, Society for Humanistic Judaism, and Unitarian Universalist Association.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.