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A computer concept of a display the religious group Summum wants to erect in Duchesne and Pleasant Grove. Summum says Pleasant Grove's refusal to allow the monument's erection violates the right to free speech.

There are a number of donated monuments in Pleasant Grove's Pioneer Park: a stone from the first LDS temple in Nauvoo, the state's oldest schoolhouse and a monument to the Ten Commandments, to name a few.

And if a small religious group gets its way, city leaders will have to decide whether to remove those monuments, or make room for more.

Attorneys for Pleasant Grove and the religious group Summum will make their arguments to the nation's highest court today in a lawsuit that could have major First Amendment implications.

In 2003, Summum's founder wrote to Pleasant Grove, hoping to place a monument in the park to the group's Seven Aphorisms, which members believe to be lesser-known instructions given to Moses by God. The city said no.

In the lawsuit that followed the rejection, the courts ruled Pleasant Grove must accept the monument because, by accepting other monuments, the city had transformed the park into a public forum where free speech must be permitted. The city disagreed, claiming the monuments became "government speech" when the city accepted them and not the speech of their donors.

Whether that is the case is the issue at hand for the top court.

"The Supreme Court is faced with what we believe is an easy choice: preserve sound precedent involving the well-established distinction between government speech and private speech, or permit a twisted interpretation of the Constitution to create havoc in cities and localities across America," Jay Sekulow, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Pleasant Grove, said in a statement.

Summum's attorney, Brian Barnard, said the city has stepped on the First Amendment by endorsing one set of religious beliefs over another. In a public park, free speech is the only option, he said.

"What (the city has) done is in large part, if not exclusively, religiously based," Barnard said. "Summum says, 'We want equal time."'

For its part, the city has defended its decision to accept some religious monuments and not others by citing a policy of only accepting items with ties to the city's pioneer heritage.

Being forced to open the park up to all monuments could invite some unseemly donations, attorneys argued.

More than 20 other cities that have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Pleasant Grove agree. Through court documents, they have expressed concerns that a ruling in Summum's favor would mean a monument to 9/11 terrorists for every monument to the victims.

"In short, accepting a Statue of Liberty does not compel a government to accept a Statue of Tyranny," Pleasant Grove argued in its brief.

Barnard said that "parade of horribles" was an irony that had been lost on the city.

"We're not putting up some offensive monument," Barnard said. "The city has said, 'We want to preserve the park for things that remind us of our pioneer heritage.' Mormons came to Utah because they were persecuted. They were a minority religion and they were not allowed to practice freely in the Midwest. Lo and behold, supposedly in furtherance of pioneer heritage, the city is squelching the free speech of a small, newly founded religion."


E-mail: afalk@desnews.com