Seven Aphorisms axed

A tiny religious group won’t be able to place its own monument — containing the group’s “Seven Aphorisms” — next to a monument with the words of the Ten Commandments engraved on it in a park in the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah.

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the arguments of the group called Sunnum, and said Pleasant Grove doesn’t have to post the aphorisms next to the commandments to protect Sunnum’s free-speech rights.

That’s certainly welcome news, not just for Pleasant Grove, but for communities around the country, including Grand Junction, that have displays of the Ten Commandments and other cultural icons on public property.

Unfortunately, the unanimous decision of the high court was fractured in its interpretation of what the ruling may mean in other cases.

This case appears to lead to the conclusion that communities that have displays such as these don’t have to worry about violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits government from establishing a state-supported religion.

Justice Antoni Scalia said as much in his concurring opinion. “The city ought not fear that today’s victory propelled it from the Free Speech Clause frying pan into the Establishment Clause fire,” he wrote. “The city can safely exhale.”

However, other justices weren’t so sure. Justice David Souter, for instance, noted that the decision hinged on what is understood to be government speech and how protected that is. The city, Souter wrote, will have to “take care to avoid the appearance of a flat-out establishment of religion.”

Once again, the Supreme Court has ruled on a case involving government and religion while leaving considerable ambiguity in the issue. And so the seemingly unending debate about what governments can and can’t do with respect to religion will continue.

And, as letters to the editor of this newspaper regularly demonstrate, there is no shortage of opinion on any side of that debate.


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