Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

Facts of the Case

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


Does a city’s refusal to place a religious organization’s monument in a public park violate that organization’s First Amendment free speech rights when the park already contains a monument from a different religious group?


No. The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit holding that the placement of a monument in a public park is a form of government speech and therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. With Justice Samuel A. Alito writing for the majority and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin G. Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer, the Court reasoned that since Pleasant Grove City had retained final authority over which monuments were displayed, the monuments represented an expression of the city’s viewpoints and thus government speech.Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Ginsburg, wrote a separate concurring opinion that largely embraced the majority’s reasoning. Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, also wrote a separate concurring opinion. Agreeing with the Court’s reasoning, he also noted that there were likely no violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment on the part of Pleasant Grove City. He argued that displays of the Ten Commandments had been construed by the Court as having an undeniable historical meaning and thus did not attempt to establish a religion. Justice Breyer also wrote a separate concurring opinion in which he noted that government speech should be considered a rule of thumb and not a rigid category. He stated that sometimes the Court should ask whether a government’s actions burdens speech disproportionately in light of the action’s tendency to further a legitimate government objective. Justice Souter also wrote separately, concurring in the judgment, but warning that public monuments should not be considered government speech categorically.

Case Information

  • Citation: 555 US _ (2009)
  • Granted: Mar 31, 2008
  • Argued: Nov 12, 2008
  • Decided Feb 25, 2009