Respondent Summum, a religious organization headquartered in Utah, requested to the City’s major permission to erect a religious monument in the city’s park. The city council rejected the requests twice. The respondent filed an action against the City and local officials, arguing that petitioners had violated the Free Speech Clause by accepting other religious monument but denying the Summum’s proposed monuments.
The First Amendment does not apply if the government is the speaker or adopts a private speech as its own.
The Pioneer Park located in Utah contains various displays including monuments, most of which were donated by private groups and individuals. Respondent Summum, a religious organization headquartered in Utah, requested to the City’s major permission to erect a religious monument, but without describing its historical significance or Summum’s connection to the community. The city council rejected the requests twice. The respondent filed an action against the City and local officials, arguing that petitioners had violated the Free Speech Clause by accepting other religious monument but denying the Summum’s proposed monuments.
Does the Free Speech Clause entitles a private group to insist that a municipality permit it to place a permanent monument in a city park where other donated monuments were previously erected?
No, even though a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and other expressive acts, the display of a permanent monument in a public park does not constitute a form of expression. Placing a permanent monument in a public park shall be viewed as a form of government speech, which is not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.
The majority’s decision will result in a situation where the public will presumably understand a monument as government speech whenever a government maintains a monument. As mementos and testimonials pile up, however, the chatter may make it less obvious that the government is speaking in its own right simply by maintaining the monuments. To avoid this, the Court should avoid relying on a per se rule to say when speech is governmental. The best approach is to ask whether a reasonable and fully informed observer would understand the expression to be government speech.
It may be difficult to tell whether a government is speaking on its own behalf or is providing a forum for public speech. However, permanent monuments displayed on public property such as parks typically represent government speech, because governments have traditionally used monuments to speak to the public since the ancient times. A monument is a structure designed as a means of expression. A government entity arranges for the construction of a monument to express thoughts or instill some feeling in those who see the structure. Public parks can accommodate only a limited number of permanent monuments. Government would have to accept a flood of monuments or face the pressure to remove longstanding and cherished monuments if government entities were required to maintain viewpoint neutrality in selecting donated monuments.