Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

PETITIONER:Pleasant Grove City, Utah et al.
LOCATION: Pioneer Park

DOCKET NO.: 07-665
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 555 US (2009)
GRANTED: Mar 31, 2008
ARGUED: Nov 12, 2008
DECIDED: Feb 25, 2009

Daryl Joseffer – Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners
Jay Alan Sekulow – argued the cause for the petitioners
Pamela Harris – argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Summum, a religious organization, sent a letter to the mayor of Pleasant Grove, Utah asking to place a monument in one of the city’s parks. Although the park already housed a monument to the Ten Commandments, the mayor denied Summum’s request because the monument did not “directly relate to the history of Pleasant Grove.” Summum filed suit against the city in federal court citing, among other things, a violation of its First Amendment free speech rights. The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah denied Summum’s request for a preliminary injunction.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court and granted Summum’s injunction request. The Tenth Circuit held that the park was in fact a “public” forum, not a non-public forum as the district court had held. Furthermore, Summum demonstrated that it would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction were to be denied, and the interests of the city did not outweigh this potential harm. The injunction, according to the court, was also not against the public interest.


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?

Media for Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 12, 2008 in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 25, 2009 in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has our opinion this morning in case 07-665, Pleasant Grove City versus Summum.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari from the Tenth Circuit.

Petitioner, Pleasant Grove City, owns and displays a number of monuments and other objects in Pioneer Park, Utah including a Ten Commandments monument.

In 2003, respondent, Summum, a religious group asked the city to erect a stone monument displaying its Seven Aphorisms.

The petitioner denied the request.

In 2005, the respondent sued the City and various officials arguing that because the city had accepted the Ten Commandments monument to Free Speech — Speech Clause of the First Amendment compels the city to display the Seven Aphorisms monument as well.

The District Court denied respondent’s request for a preliminary injunction ordering the city to erect respondent’s monument.

The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the city was required to accept the monument because of public park is a traditional public forum.

We conclude that although a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and other transitory expressive acts, the display of a permanent monument in a public park is not a form of expression to which form analysis supplies, instead, the placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.

For this reason and other set out in an opinion filed today with the clerk, we reverse the decision of the Tenth Circuit.

The judgment of the Court is unanimous.

Justice Stevens has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Ginsburg has joined.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Thomas has joined.

Justice Souter has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment and Justice Breyer has filed a concurring opinion.