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Humanists File Legal Brief in Summum Case: No Permanent Religion in Public Parks

June 23, 2008
10:24 AM

CONTACT: American Humanist Association
Roy Speckhardt (202) 238-9088

Humanists File Legal Brief in Summum Case:
No Permanent Religion in Public Parks
WASHINGTON, DC - June 23 - The American Humanist Association today filed a legal brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Pleasant Grove City, UT, et al. v. Summon. The amicus brief argued against allowing the Summon religious group to display its aphorisms in the same public park where a Ten Commandments monument appears. Rather, the American Humanist Association urged the Supreme Court to disallow religious speech on the government-owned property entirely and to remove the Ten Commandments monument.

"It's a question of fairness," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "If you allow one religious display, to be fair you must allow them all. But government shouldn't be in the religious display business, and there are too many religions to be able to do that anyway. Churches, mosques and synagogues should erect their own displays on their own property and let the government worry about governance."

The case brings up issues 1st Amendment concerns of government endorsement of religion. According to the AHA's legal brief, "By itself, the text of the Ten Commandments sends an overwhelmingly religious message, and the context in which the monument is displayed here only heightens the effect of government endorsement of this message."

The brief also addresses the legal question of equal access. "The display of the Ten Commandments sends the message to nonadherents of Judeo-Christian religions that they are not full members of the political community ... Although the Supreme Court has characterized a nearly identical Ten Commandments monument as nothing more than 'acknowledgement' of the role played by religion, there is no principled or neutral way to decide which beliefs are deserving of the government's 'acknowledgment' and which are not."

"We had two purposes for writing this brief," said Bob Ritter, coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association. "Our first priority was to inform the court that public parks are not public forums for speech. Although monuments erected on public land may have been donated by a private donor, by virtue of being on government-owned land such displays represent government-endorsed speech and not the free speech of the donor. Second, we wanted to demonstrate that the Establishment clause prohibits the government from displaying inherently religious monuments."

Other organizations signing on to the Amicus Brief include The American Ethical Union, Atheist Alliance International, the Institute for Humanist Studies, the Secular Student Alliance, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The American Humanist Association ( advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.


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