Religious monuments on public property

It’s not Texas-based but I enjoyed this story from the New York Times on a conflict over the placement of religious monuments in a public park. We generally try to use Texas examples whenever we can. However, in most parts of Texas religious diversity ranges from Southern Baptists to Roman Catholics so we don’t always get the most interesting mix of perspectives.

In Pleasant Grove Utah the adherents of a religion called Summum want to place their “Seven Aphorisms” in a public park near a monument of the Ten Commandments.  “As above, so below; as below, so above” might make a fine monument in a park. However, local officials aren’t sure and have declined their request. The city’s defense is that only monuments concerning the city’s history are eligible for display in “Pioneer Park” and only when donated by groups with a long association with the city. However, lawyer for the Summuns points out that the Fraternal Order of Eagles had only been in town two years when it donated the Ten Commandments monument that was placed in the city park. The fact that the pioneers of the area were Mormon suggests that removing religion from this dispute will be difficult.

A federal appeals court has ordered Pleasant Grove City to accept the Summan monument although under the free-speech protection of the first amendment rather than the establishment clause. The city and its allies argue that once the city is compelled to open its public spaces up to both sides then cities could be asked to erect Al-Queda monuments next to 9/11 commemorations. In Texas this could mean that all those Confederate monuments on the grounds of the Texas capitol might get neighbors commemorating the sacrifices of Union troops.

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