Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

555 U.S. 460, 129 S. Ct. 1125 (2009)



With the concept of the traditional public forum as a starting point, members of the public have free speech rights on other types of government property and in certain other government programs that share essential attributes of a traditional public forum. A government entity may create "a designated public forum" if government property that has not traditionally been regarded as a public forum is intentionally opened up for that purpose. Government restrictions on speech in a designated public forum are subject to the same strict scrutiny as restrictions in a traditional public forum. A government entity may create a forum that is limited to use by certain groups or dedicated solely to the discussion of certain subjects. In such a forum, a government entity may impose restrictions on speech that are reasonable and viewpoint-neutral.


The organization requested permission to erect a stone monument containing the organization's Seven Aphorisms in a public park located in the city. The park contained 15 permanent displays, at least 11 of which were donated by private groups or individuals, including a Ten Commandments monument. The religious organization sued the city and local officials, alleging that they violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment by accepting the Ten Commandments monument  but rejecting a request to erect a proposed monument in a public park. The district court denied the organization's preliminary injunction request. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed. Petitioners filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which was granted.


Does a city's refusal of a monument for a city park violate a religious organization's right to free speech?




The Court determined that the city's decision was not subject to the Free Speech Clause because the city's decision to accept certain privately donated monuments while rejecting the organization's monument was best viewed as a form of government speech. Although the park was a traditional public forum for speeches and other transitory expressive acts, the display of the permanent monument in the public park was not a form of expression to which forum analysis applied; instead, the placement of the permanent monument in the public park was a form of government speech.

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