The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government does not have to allow permanent monuments from opposing organizations in a public place - saying that such enduring displays go beyond the realm of free speech.
On Wednesday, the Court denied the display of an alternative religious monument near a Ten Commandments display at a Utah park. Justices said that the monuments do not fall under the freedom of speech clause and are therefore not proteected under the First Amendment.
Click the player to hear remarks from Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.
Summum, a small religious group based in Salt Lake City, wanted to display its "Seven Aphorisms of Summum" monument in Pleasant Grove, Utah's Pioneer Park. A Ten Commandments display has been in the park for nearly 50 years.
Lawyers from the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented the city, argued that allowing a display just because it offered an opposing view would also make monuments like a Hitler statue to counter a Holocaust memorial acceptable.
Justices unanimously agreed, ruling that freedom of speech could not apply to public displays.
"Speakers, no matter how long-winded, eventually come to the end of their remarks. Persons distributing leaflets and carrying signs at some point tire and go home. Monuments, however, endure," Justice Alito wrote in the court ruling.
"A public park... can provide a soapbox for a very large number of orators," he added. "But it is hard to imagine how a public park could be opened up for the installation of permanent monuments by every person or group wishing to engage in that form of expression."
Jay Sekulow, ACLJ chief counsel, called the ruling a "huge victory."
"This decision allows government to convey messages about its own history of its community, and includes religious monuments," he said. "Religious monuments are not treated differently than others. Most significantly, the government gets to make the selections."
The Court made clear that the issue at hand did not involve freedom of speech or religion, but instead rights of the government.
"The Free Speech Clause restricts government regulation of private speech," Alito noted. "It does not regulate government speech."
The Summum, which is Latin for "the sum total of all creation," initially sued Pleasant Grove in 2007 after its display was denied. A federal appeals court in Denver ruled in favor of the group, ordering that the display be allowed. Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling overturns that decision.
The Summum incorporates meditation and other practices for "gaining the experiences that will awaken us to the spirit within," according to its Web site. The group says it is not about "doctrine, dogma or beliefs."
The Supreme Court is also set to rule soon on a case involving the presence of an 8-foot cross at a veteran's memorial in California. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have challenged the cross' standing for nearly eight years.
Sources: CBN News, WorldNetDaily, Associated Press