Today the Supreme Court issued a decision that will reverberate throughout this country. I’m surprised it’s not getting more play in the media, actually. Here’s the backstory. Pleasant Grove, Utah has a monument of the Ten Commandments as well as other monuments that private groups gave them on display in a city park. The religious group Summun wanted to place its own monument in that same city park next to the Ten Commandments. Pleasant Grove rejected the monument, Summun sued saying their free speech rights were violated, and the case went all the up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of Pleasant Grove, Utah. Here’s the report from Reuters:
Attorneys for the city argued that the appeals court’s ruling would require cities and states to remove long-standing monuments or result in public parks nationwide becoming cluttered junkyards of monuments.
The Supreme Court agreed. In the court’s opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the placement of a permanent monument in a public park was not subject to scrutiny under the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech clause.
“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,” he wrote.
In a 9-0 decision announced by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court concluded: “In sum, we hold that the City’s decision to accept certain privately donated monuments while rejecting respondent’s is best viewed as a form of government speech. As a result, the City’s decision is not subject to the Free Speech Clause, and the Court of Appeals erred in holding otherwise. We therefore reverse.”
The high court concluded that the government has the right to speak for itself without violating the Constitution. “The Free Speech Clause restricts government regulation of private speech; it does not regulate government speech . . . A government entity has the right to ‘speak for itself’ . . . . it is not easy to imagine how government could function if it lacked this freedom . . . A government entity may exercise this same freedom to express its views when it receives assistance from private sources for the purpose of delivering a government-controlled message.”
This is a significant ruling because it has for the first time acknowledged that a government has the same right to free speech as an individual. What does this do? For one, ACLU lawyers everywhere are probably crying in their beers because the ruling puts an end to their lawsuits against local governments for putting up nativity scenes while not erecting religious displays from every other religious group. From here on out, any government, local or federal for that matter, can accept, as long as it’s permanent, a monument or display of a nativity scene and put that monument or display in the public square. They can also reject a permanent monument or display with a different message from another private group without any repercussions.
This unanimous ruling also gives me hope that the SCOTUS might similarly rule that a radio station or a company that owns radio stations has the right to air whatever radio shows or opinions it wants while being able to reject opposing views it wants. These two cases are not directly related, but they are close enough that it could give us an indication of how this SCOTUS would view free speech regarding the Fairness Doctrine.