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Pleasant Grove City v. Summum
November 13, 2008 12:16 PM   Subscribe

The previously-mentioned Summums want to place their own monument in a park which contains the Ten Commandments, making the Supreme Court's heads explode in a a hilariously weird oral argument[pdf]: "Scalia: I don't know what that means. You keep saying it, and I don't know what it means. [...] Breyer: Suppose that there certain messages that private people had like "eat vitamins"—and then somebody comes along with a totally different content, "ride the roller coaster," and they say this part of the park is designed to get healthy children, not put children at risk."

At issue: "Pulling a crystalline, cogent rule out of the murk of the court's First Amendment, public forum, and Establishment Clause doctrine is an act of creation too complicated for mere mortals."
posted by Non Prosequitur (116 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I am the United States and I approve this message."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:26 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wait, what does Justice Breyer have against roller coasters?

Now that's just rude.
posted by Spatch at 12:30 PM on November 13, 2008


I'm actually sympathetic to the city in Utah's argument, that hey it's the government's park and the government took the Ten Commandments monument as a private donation which they elected to have shown out of respect for the civic history of the local culture, rather than because of religious reasons. I mean what's the slippery slope on the other side of this free speech argument? You just put any monument you want to in a public park and if the government doesn't let you, you say they're discriminating based on content? You can remove a lot of monuments and sculptures by saying the government hasn't adopted them technically and/or if they adopt them technically then they're discriminating.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2008


Metafilter: Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.
posted by zippy at 12:34 PM on November 13, 2008


They should settle this by compromise: collate the commandments. Take "everything vibrates" and "Obey thy mother and father" to make "Vibrate Thy Mother and Father". Or would it be "thou shalt not have any other vibrations before me"?
posted by Kiablokirk at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2008


Third Aphorism of Religion Cases: Government establishment of religion is only impermissible when it freaks out Justice Stephen Breyer.

Hee.
posted by Tehanu at 12:39 PM on November 13, 2008


Suppose that there certain messages that private people had like "eat vitamins""Be sure to drink your Ovaltine"
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:42 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I liked the argument that Sekulow made. If the city claimed the monument as its own speech, it wouldn't be required to accept other points of view alongside it. Ordinarily that would create a problem with the Establishment Clause, but if the city included some kind of disclaimer emphasizing that the monument's only significance was an acknowledgement of the Commandments' role in the city's civic history, the Est. Clause problem becomes smaller.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 12:45 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man those Summums are weird. They even do autopsies on teddy bears. cripes.
posted by nickyskye at 12:56 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Non Prosequitur writes "hey it's the government's park and the government took the Ten Commandments monument as a private donation which they elected to have shown out of respect for the civic history of the local culture, rather than because of religious reasons."

Hey, it's the public's park. Hey, the government is supposed to not establish any religion.

And really, the Ten Commandments are being displayed as "civic history", not for religious reasons? Then where's Hammurabi's Code, the Corpus Juris Civilis, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, or the US Constitution (you know, the thing which outlaws government establishment of religion)?

How is it that with the myriad of "civic history" that's much more relevant to legal development than the Ten Commandments, these Christians always end up showcasing the one document alleged to be dictated by "God" and telling us to have no other gods but Him?

I mean, come on, we all know that "civic history" is an excuse -- a lie. A lie made deliberately, because the defenders of this crap know they're breaking the fundamental law of the land. The know they're law breakers, they know they're liars, but, hey, it's for their God so that makes everything a-OK, and furthermore, now it would impolite and intolerant of us to expose their lying, because hey, they're Good Christians™.

And if it is just pure "civic history", why shouldn't any other group be able to put up its version of "civic history"? Why is your monument so special? Oh, right, God dictated it.

Do you really think blatant law-breaking and lying about it and litigiousness over it makes Christianity look good? No, it makes Christians look like hypocrites, especially given that Jesus told you to render unto Caesar and pray in secret.

You're free to put up whatever monuments you want in your churches, and we've even rebated all your taxes to make it easier on you, and yet you keep trying to break the law by putting your theology in our public places. Or change the law to take away people's rights.

A lot of people of beginning to think that your religion has very little to do with the Sermon on the Mount or the Blood of Lamb, and its principle sacraments are hating gays and making in-your-face public nuisances. If that's an unfair summary of Christianity (and it is) you have only your most vocal co-religionists to blame for it.
posted by orthogonality at 1:03 PM on November 13, 2008 [73 favorites]


A lot of people of beginning to think that your religion has very little to do with the Sermon on the Mount

I'm Muslim…
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:05 PM on November 13, 2008


I would like to put orthogonality's post on a stone tablet and install it in a public park.
posted by emjaybee at 1:06 PM on November 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


In other words, breathe. There is no Establishment Clause claim made by either party here. It's a free-speech argument. Do you really think anyone should be able to put anything up in a public park? Just because other things are there already?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:07 PM on November 13, 2008


anyone up for donating a giant Buddha to the city?
posted by Glibpaxman at 1:08 PM on November 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


Funniest supreme court case this season! Must-see TV!
posted by GuyZero at 1:09 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm Muslim…
posted by Non Prosequitur

Then you can see why we think your religion has little to do with the sermon on the mount.
posted by boo_radley at 1:09 PM on November 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm just going to park my broken-down car there and say it's a monument to Freeganism.
posted by GuyZero at 1:10 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do you really think anyone should be able to put anything up in a public park?

If I had my druthers, only the most insane shit would go up in a public park. So the Vibration Principles of these Summum folks? Sure! A statue of Abe Lincoln? No! But a statue of Abe Lincoln french-kissing a dryad? HELLS yes!
posted by Greg Nog at 1:10 PM on November 13, 2008 [15 favorites]


There is no Establishment Clause claim made by either party here.

More's the pity. If this gets knocked down on Free Speech grounds, which it probably will, Summum will be back with exactly the same issue on Establishment Clause grounds, which is what they should have used in the first place. This go-round is just an appetizer.
posted by gurple at 1:11 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


If that's an unfair summary of Christianity (and it is) you have only your most vocal co-religionists to blame for it.

Mormons are Christians?
posted by Stynxno at 1:13 PM on November 13, 2008


Can we engrave orthogonality's post on the pedestal of a statue that depicts Teddy Roosevelt fighting a Velociraptor?
posted by Tehanu at 1:13 PM on November 13, 2008 [8 favorites]


If one can post religious tracts as public monuments with a "civic history" disclaimer on them, then that opens the door to local governments being able to skirt the separation of church and state in a huge number of ways. Cities could plaster the downtown with giant crosses and bible quotations as long as there's maybe a sticker-sized disclaimer that this is for an acknowledgement of the role these played in civic history. The city could distribute flyers with the ten commandments on them door to door, and pay to have preachers reciting famous sermons on the city hall steps (with dedicated city video)...just as long as it was of "historical interest".

Go with the "historical significance" argument, and one might as well just toss the constitution, and ready the bonfires for the pagans.
posted by happyroach at 1:16 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


gurple, do they really want the Commandments statue removed though? They just want their own displayed right? Won't invoking an establishment clause argument cause ALL religious statues to be removed from a public park?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:16 PM on November 13, 2008


Mormons are Christians?

Yes. Indeed, Mormons believe they follow a "purer" form of Christianity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:18 PM on November 13, 2008


Mormons are Christians?

Yes. Why would you think otherwise?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:19 PM on November 13, 2008


So, everything: it vibrates?
posted by Wolfdog at 1:22 PM on November 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


I know a lot of Christians who will dispute that, because they don't believe Jesus was the son of a celestial couple having lots of soul-babies and whose brother was Lucifer.*

I would call it more of an offshoot; the sacraments and texts (Book of Mormon) are very different, although based on Christian belief.

Likewise, just because Islam and Judaism both tell the story of Abraham, they aren't the same religion.

*Not a Mormon slam, I don't have a dog in this fight.
posted by emjaybee at 1:22 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Won't invoking an establishment clause argument cause ALL religious statues to be removed from a public park?

Not the way they'd arrange it. The city -- OK, tiny hamlet -- is currently giving preference to one religion over all others. If they let any religion put up their crap, they wouldn't be privileging one over the others. Same goal as the free speech thing, but a more reasonable line of attack, in my opinion.
posted by gurple at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


A lie made deliberately, because the defenders of this crap know they're breaking the fundamental law of the land.

Not just a lie, but lying to a judge. That is, the witness they are bearing is false... I wonder if there's anything in the Bible about that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Mormons are Christians?

That depends entirely on what you mean by "Christians."
posted by The World Famous at 1:27 PM on November 13, 2008


If they want to enshrine civic history, then I want this piece in steel:

"...the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." (Article 11)
posted by casarkos at 1:28 PM on November 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Mormons aren't Christians, they're Mormons. Just like Muslims aren't Christians either, despite the fact that they include Jesus among Muhammad's many prophets.
posted by hermitosis at 1:28 PM on November 13, 2008


Abe: It all began when Jebediah Springfield first came to these lands with his partner, Shelbyville Manhattan.

[flash to pilgrims approaching a hilltop]

Jebediah: People, our search is over! On this site we shall build a new town where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets.
Shelbyville: Yes, and marry our cousins.
Jebediah: I was -- what are you talking about, Shelbyville? Why would we want to marry our cousins?
Shelbyville: Because they're so attractive. I, I thought that was the whole point of this journey.
Jebediah: Absolutely not!
Shelbyville: I tell you, I won't live in a town that robs men of the right to marry their cousins.
Jebediah: Well, then, we'll form our own town. Who will come and live a life devoted to chastity, abstinence, and a flavorless mush I call rootmarm?

[the people divide between Jebediah and Shelbyville]

Abe: The town of Springfield was born on that day, and to mark that sweet moment, our people planted this lemon tree (lemons being the sweetest fruit available at the time).
posted by turaho at 1:29 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


DevilsAdvocate answer the question "Mormons are Christians?, "Yes. Why would you think otherwise?"

Um, because Jesus went around healing the sick (including a Roman legionnaire into young boys) and preventing people from being stoned to death for sexual deviance, not raising millions of dollars to prevent people in love from getting married?

I have some respect for Christians who try to act like Jesus. None for "Christians" who try to use Jesus as a club to bully people.
posted by orthogonality at 1:29 PM on November 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


How is it that with the myriad of "civic history" that's much more relevant to legal development than the Ten Commandments, these Christians always end up showcasing the one document alleged to be dictated by "God" and telling us to have no other gods but Him?

I have to agree. The civic history argument is incredibly disingenuous, and when we're talking about places that run on public funds, I think it's best to err on the side of caution and leave the tablet monuments out of it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:30 PM on November 13, 2008


I think that the only reason this issue got all twisted up in knots is that the decisions made about this over the years have been decided largely on the basis of legally justifying the display of the 10 commandments on government property. If a judge thinks that the 10 commandments is a good thing to display on government property, they will stretch the law to allow it. Then when a case comes up later that depends on the ruling in that prior case the next judge has to contort the law even more to get the precedent to fit into the body of law. As a result we have this case, which is almost impossible to decide based on the legal principles involved. If the majority of the Supreme Court thinks that government displays of the 10 commandments are ok, I fully expect their decision to make even less sense.

My answer to this dilemma is that having any kind of government sanctioned display of religious symbols is plain unconstitutional. But it's a bit late for that at this point.
posted by jefeweiss at 1:33 PM on November 13, 2008





A lot of people of beginning to think that your religion has very little to do with the Sermon on the Mount or the Blood of Lamb, and its principle sacraments are hating gays and making in-your-face public nuisances. If that's an unfair summary of Christianity (and it is) you have only your most vocal co-religionists to blame for it.-Orthogonality

You state it's unfair, but deny the fact that people are responsible for believing what they believe. It's like saying that I have every right to summarize Islam as a religion dedicated around 70 virgins and blowing one's self up with as big a target ratio as possible, all because Muslims aren't doing enough to counter the events that apparently justify an unfair summary.

Hogwash.

The above assumption only perpetuates ignorance and leads to individuals sustaining irrational hate towards others suffering from the same affliction.
posted by Atreides at 1:33 PM on November 13, 2008 [9 favorites]


Heads asplode! Chief Justice Strong Q. Bad to the bench....
posted by JHarris at 1:37 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not to kick Mormons around or anything, but let's not forget that according to their mythology, Joseph Smith began to receive messages that would become the Book of Mormon via visitations from the Angel Moroni, starting in 1823. It was the Angel Moroni who revealed to Joseph Smith that Jesus Christ visited North American and preached the Gospels to the Indians. Therefore, since the Indians heard the Gospel and rejected it, it was alright for Smith and company to drive the native population out of a huge swath of land with impunity and set up their Mormon promised land as Utah. Conveniently enough.

In other words, Joseph Smith claimed divine revelation as a justification for meeting political ends. Which is fairly consistent with some others who've identified themselves as Christian (among other faiths).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2008


Greg Nog, Tehanu, looks like they've gotten started on those already.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:41 PM on November 13, 2008


(1) Yes, Mormons are Christians. So are Catholics and Baptists and and tongue-speaking Alaskans. And each group thinks they're "more" Christian than every other group. It's ridiculous, but also human nature.

(2) I'm working on my own religious statue to donate to the city. Can anyone help me figure out how to make a bronze casting out of spaghetti?

I need some of the noodly appendages to stick out in a proper, respectful way, too.
posted by rokusan at 1:43 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Mormons aren't Christians, they're Mormons. Just like Muslims aren't Christians either, despite the fact that they include Jesus among Muhammad's many prophets.

This is deeply inaccurate. Islam has deep roots more comparable to all of Christianity than to a modern Christian sect. See Restorationism for more on Mormons and other groups that consider themselves Christian but broke away from established Christianity in modern times.

I'll point out of the injustice of certain acts of the Mormon Church from here to Sunday, Prop8 being the most recent example. But that doesn't change how they fit within religious history.
posted by Tehanu at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Atreides writes "You state it's unfair, but deny the fact that people are responsible for believing what they believe."

I was thinking of a recent poll, in which younger people strongly associated Christianity with being anti-gay.

Nor did I deny that "people are responsible for believing what they believe." If you believe in a God who punishes unbaptized babies and uncelibate gays with an eternity of torture, that's your responsibility.

All I'm saying is that organized Christianity seems to mostly make the news for involving itself in the political sphere. As teh economy crashes, of course, more people will return to religion and maybe they'll see less hate and more food kitchens.

But don't blame me the messenger for decades of Christians putting political activism ahead of worshiping The Christ and emulating Jesus.
posted by orthogonality at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


In more relevant comments, that Slate article almost makes the proceedings of the Supreme C. seem interesting. Nice link.

As for the religion itself, I refuse to believe in anything whose Chosen Earthly Representatives decide to attach an (R) symbol to. It makes it seem exactly like they're trying to become The Next Scientology, and we've not even gotten rid of the last one yet.
posted by JHarris at 1:46 PM on November 13, 2008


The above assumption only perpetuates ignorance and leads to individuals sustaining irrational hate towards others suffering from the same affliction.

Organized religion kinda does that, too. Just saying.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:50 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I know a lot of Christians who will dispute that, [Mormons are Christians]

"Lots of Christians" will argue that Catholics aren't Christians, that Anglicans aren't Christians, or whatever. In the absence of trumpets from on high and an old guy with a beard and his bleeding son appearing to tell us who the Real Christians are and aren't, isn't it a trifle close to presuming to know the mind and will of God for one Christian to start sitting in judgement on the others?
posted by rodgerd at 1:50 PM on November 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


In more relevant comments, that Slate article almost makes the proceedings of the Supreme C. seem interesting. Nice link.

That's because it's by Dahlia Lithwick, the single best thing about Slate. She's made of 100% pure awesome.
posted by The Bellman at 1:51 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I refuse to believe in anything whose Chosen Earthly Representatives decide to attach an (R) symbol to.

On a second reading, I realized that you probably meant a registered trademark symbol, but I read that as "Republican."

Funny how it works either way.
posted by rokusan at 1:51 PM on November 13, 2008


As for the religion itself, I refuse to believe in anything whose Chosen Earthly Representatives decide to attach an (R) symbol to.

What do you mean?
posted by The World Famous at 1:53 PM on November 13, 2008


Really your honor, this park is just a sculpture garden and that depiction of the ten commandments is merely sculpture, not speech.
posted by caddis at 1:58 PM on November 13, 2008


I know a lot of Christians who will dispute that

I don't doubt it. However "there are Christians who deny that Mormons are Christians" does not imply "Mormons are not Christians." See the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Likewise, just because Islam and Judaism both tell the story of Abraham, they aren't the same religion.

No one is saying that all Christians would agree with Mormonism on all issues. Christianity is a broad umbrella which encompasses a number of different belief systems with little in common among all of them beyond having Jesus Christ as a central figure. Since Jesus Christ is the central figure in Mormonism, it's accurate to refer to it as a Christian religion, and its adherents as Christians

I have some respect for Christians who try to act like Jesus. None for "Christians" who try to use Jesus as a club to bully people.

Whether you respect certain people has little to do with whether they are Christians or not. I don't respect American Cheese (the style of cheese known as "American," that is, not just any cheese made in America), but it's not useful to deny that it is cheese. You can re-define "Christian" to mean "anyone whom I judge to be acting in accord with Jesus' principles," but that's not useful for communication. I can redefine "the Empire State Building" to mean "the Pacific Ocean," but people will look at me funny if I do, and I shouldn't expect to be understood.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:02 PM on November 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


I have some respect for Christians who try to act like Jesus. None for "Christians" who try to use Jesus as a club to bully people.

You know, that sentence works just as well if you replace the word "Christians" with "Lesbians". Or "African Americans". Or, you know... "People".
posted by rokusan at 2:04 PM on November 13, 2008


Uhh, not that I am one, but I've always taken Christianity to include anything where you accept Jesus Christ (the Messiah) as your personal savior. This implies firstly that he is more than a prophet, and also includes divinity in the mix, since he can grant salvation, which your standard issue prophets cannot.

This particular standard would make Jews and Muslims not Christians, but preserve Mormons, Catholics, snake-handlers, etc., as Christians. It's about as succinct as it can get, I think. Not sure where the Calvinists fit into this — can you have a savior if it is pre-determined? Or do the Calvinists scoot in under the idea that it's still Jesus providing the salvation, even if this was known before you were born?

Stay tuned for further news: I'm still trying to find a good definition of "planet" that includes Pluto but throws out all of those annoying other little iceballs.
posted by adipocere at 2:11 PM on November 13, 2008


All I'm saying is that organized Christianity seems to mostly make the news for involving itself in the political sphere. As teh economy crashes, of course, more people will return to religion and maybe they'll see less hate and more food kitchens.

Again, your argument is resting entirely on the fact that invalid perceptions are justified. Just because CNN chooses to follow the Mormon church's drive to stop 8 and not the hundreds of Christian supported food kitchens in operation around the country, it's fine for folks to make invalid opinions. Why don't we just say that all American troops in Afghanistan should be called baby killers, because they only pop up in the news when a bomb blows up a house filled with non-combatants?

It's fine to make a conclusion that people will have invalid opinions due to the most visible news concerning a topic, but not to say its justified.

But don't blame me the messenger for decades of Christians putting political activism ahead of worshiping The Christ and emulating Jesus.

I don't blame you for anything, I'm simply stating you're off in your rationalization.

Lord knows, I'm sick of seeing people who place politics over following the path of Jesus Christ. A prime example of this idiocy is Christopedia.us, which managed in its paltry 176 articles, to have a "featured article" on Obama that's negative and racist with 30 citations, but has an article on Jesus that's half as long, with no cites, and no articles at all on the Apostles. A great number of Christians have allowed themselves to be lead astray.
posted by Atreides at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


I suppose the publicity will get the Summums a bunch of new converts.
posted by Bitter soylent at 2:22 PM on November 13, 2008


Rokusan, I agree with you in general, but not in particular: To be a Christian, by definition, requires one to adhere to principles and teachings of Jesus. It is also a choice. Neither of those are true for a Lesbian, African-American, or a person.
posted by JohnFredra at 2:23 PM on November 13, 2008


Can I go out and practice some "civil history" by getting me some slaves and beating my wife, because you know so much of white man's "history" is all about that shit, and I want to be historically accurate an that.

no not really
posted by edgeways at 2:23 PM on November 13, 2008


I propose a simple test to determine if someone is Christian or not: ask the person the following question "excuse me, sir/madam, are you a Christian?" If they answer in the affirmative, they're Christian. Thus Mormons and Catholics are Christian while Muslims are not. See, easy!

As to the subject at hand, I wish the loonies in question had based their argument on the Establishment clause rather than free speech. I also wish the people fighting this were less loony and more sympathetic. Of course many important Constitutional issues were fought by or for some really skeezy characters (Ernesto Miranda, for example, was a genuinely loathsome individual). Still, it'd be nice if it were a photogenic group of Buddhists or Sikhs instead of a group of modern day pyramid loonies.

Non Prosequitur wrote "Won't invoking an establishment clause argument cause ALL religious statues to be removed from a public park?"

I'd certainly hope so, and that would be (from my POV anyway) the ideal solution. The idea that the Ten Commandments are somehow, magically, not a government endorsement of religion but rather an example of "civic history" is total nonsense.

orthogonality wrote "Um, because Jesus went around healing the sick (including a Roman legionnaire into young boys) and preventing people from being stoned to death for sexual deviance, not raising millions of dollars to prevent people in love from getting married?"

Well, yeah, and I'm pissed at the Mormons myself right now, but let's not forget that they were hardly the only Christian group acting in an evil manner on that topic. The Roman Catholic Church was heavily involved, as were Churches of pretty much every sect.
posted by sotonohito at 2:24 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey, you know, they could have avoided all this by simply not putting religious monuments in a public park.

or am I missing something here?
posted by davejay at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have some respect for Christians who try to act like Jesus. None for "Christians" who try to use Jesus as a club to bully people.

You know, that sentence works just as well if you replace the word "Christians" with "Lesbians". Or "African Americans". Or, you know... "People".


Can I get some lesbians to bully people with? Cause, uh, there are some serious whoopassing needed around this country and there is nothing better then a pack of pink-gun toting lesbians to get that job done.
posted by edgeways at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2008


I mean, come on, we all know that "civic history" is an excuse -- a lie. A lie made deliberately, because the defenders of this crap know they're breaking the fundamental law of the land.

The terms "lie" and "legal justification" are sometimes interchangeable, but not always.

I'm pretty familiar with the lay of the land in Utah, and I think it's quite likely that the people involved in the case believe that they are not in fact legally establishing a religion by publicly placing a sculpture, and genuinely see the placement as a reflection/expression of their community.

This doesn't mean a thorough reading of the law and the judges interpreting will support their view, and I think it's interesting to discuss that. But I also think accusations that their case is forged in bad faith are likely pretty far off.
posted by weston at 2:28 PM on November 13, 2008



Can I go out and practice some "civil history" by getting me some slaves and beating my wife, because you know so much of white man's "history" is all about that shit, and I want to be historically accurate an that.


I hate to break this to you, but slavery and whife-beating isn't just for whitey.
posted by rodgerd at 2:28 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can I get some lesbians to bully people with? Cause, uh, there are some serious whoopassing needed around this country and there is nothing better then a pack of pink-gun toting lesbians to get that job done.

I, too, would like to sign up for my personal lesbian goon squad.
posted by rodgerd at 2:30 PM on November 13, 2008


sotonohito,

What about if they replace the explicit Ten Commandments with a statue of Moses holding a tablet, inscribed A Giver of Law, as is the idea of the Commandments sculpture of the US Supreme Court? Where does that leave the Summum case if there is no Establishment Clause danger left in the government claiming that it's Government Speech? They still can't put up a cultural sculpture of their own, religious or not—they still lose out.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 2:40 PM on November 13, 2008


In a way this case is a very special dance DARING the city to explain why, 'if the sculpture is not endorsed by the government, and just put there, why can't we put ours there?' I think it sucks on the merits.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 2:43 PM on November 13, 2008


I think it sucks on the merits.

Bingo.
posted by The World Famous at 2:45 PM on November 13, 2008


What people are missing here is that this monument was donated by C.B.DeMille to promote his movie The Ten Commandments. In other words, it's just as much about Mammon as it is about God and certainly demonstrates American cultural values.
posted by CCBC at 2:50 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can I go out and practice some "civil history" by getting me some slaves and beating my wife, because you know so much of white man's "history" is all about that shit, and I want to be historically accurate an that.

You might like the first story here.
posted by Tehanu at 2:51 PM on November 13, 2008


I think Mormons think of themselves as Christians, but not many Christians think of Mormons that way. (was raised Christian, am not anymore). Of course, once you get fighting over Who's a True Christian, you're already in trouble. Still, once you're crafted your own supplementary sacred text and totally revised the biography of the central deity, you've stretched the religion pretty far past its original boundaries, which are commonly understood to be mostly contained in the current version of the bible. I would put Mormons closer to Gnostics, but in the end, it's just a question of categories, not of "purity," since that's a meaningless concept. The bible itself is a mongrel document, after all.

I really love this court case, at any rate, because it's fun to think of nine Justices getting up to speed on an obscure homebrew religion with mummified animals and 70s-era mottos about vibrations, man.
posted by emjaybee at 2:53 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think Mormons think of themselves as Christians, but not many Christians think of Mormons that way.

That's a fallacious argument. As has been pointed out above, many Christians don't think of Catholics as Christians (and there are similar situations in, for example, Islam). I like sotonohito's approach: ask the person the following question "excuse me, sir/madam, are you a Christian?" If they answer in the affirmative, they're Christian.
posted by languagehat at 3:00 PM on November 13, 2008


In other words, breathe. There is no Establishment Clause claim made by either party here. It's a free-speech argument.

Yes and no - one of the things they're doing is using these free-speech proceedings to set the city up for a fall via an Establishment Clause claim. From the article:
- Chief Justice John Roberts puts it to him this way: "You're really just picking your poison. The more you say that the monument is 'government speech' to get out of the Free Speech Clause, the more you're walking into a trap under the Establishment Clause."
posted by -harlequin- at 3:02 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't respect American Cheese (the style of cheese known as "American," that is, not just any cheese made in America), but it's not useful to deny that it is cheese.

This is in fact not true. American Cheese is not cheese. And I would very much like to defend this point all day long. Bring it.
posted by lostburner at 3:09 PM on November 13, 2008 [8 favorites]


I hope some of you saw this link at the bottom of the Slate article. If Summum wins this case, Fred Phelps wants to put up his own monument, which would read:
Matthew Shepard Entered Hell October 12,1998, in Defiance of God's Warning 'thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.' Leviticus 18:22.
posted by desjardins at 3:40 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I thought "American Cheese" was a brand name for a garish orange putty that you can use to plug rustholes in your car chassis before respraying it.

At least, that's the only use we can find for it down under.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:50 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


If the city does win the case, I see no reason why Fred Phelp's monument wouldn't go up there next.
posted by happyroach at 4:03 PM on November 13, 2008


I imagine a more likely result of Summum winning the case would be a total removal of all the park's religion-based displays.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:06 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm Muslim…
posted by Non Prosequitur

Then you can see why we think your religion has little to do with the sermon on the mount.
posted by boo_radley


Um, is that because you're ignorant of the fact that Islam regards Jesus as one of its important prophets? In fact, the final prophet before Mohammad.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:13 PM on November 13, 2008


Just to clarify, I did mean the registered trademark symbol. If one follows the link to the Summum homepage, the title of their religion in the banner image is marked with a registered trademark.
posted by JHarris at 4:19 PM on November 13, 2008


which are commonly understood to be mostly contained in the current version of the bible.

Now that's a test that doesn't open a huge can of worms.
posted by rodgerd at 4:19 PM on November 13, 2008


Actually I meant it as a stop-seeing-red-and-launching-into-me-like-i'm-some-evangelical-nut-when-i'm-not-even-religious way. It was just a bit strange to post what I thought of as a pretty interesting and chewy matter only to meet a ridiculous LOLXTIAN barrage rushing out of the curtains, daggers high, but I guess it shouldn't have been surprising.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 4:22 PM on November 13, 2008


(Hm, it wasn't linked after all, I must have found it from a websearch. My bad, the page I found is http://www.summum.us/summum.shtml.)
posted by JHarris at 4:26 PM on November 13, 2008




I think Mormons think of themselves as Christians, but not many Christians think of Mormons that way.

That's a fallacious argument. As has been pointed out above, many Christians don't think of Catholics as Christians (and there are similar situations in, for example, Islam). I like sotonohito's approach: ask the person the following question "excuse me, sir/madam, are you a Christian?" If they answer in the affirmative, they're Christian.


Nonsense. If a muslim asserts he's a christian, do we have to believe him. If I, as an atheist, assert "I'm a christian", do you have to believe me?

To break the 'no true scotsman' fallacy requires a belief in an independantly verifiable sottishness., viz: someone can demonstrate they were born in scotland, resided there since their youth, or adopted scotland as their home publically by nature of living there for a considerable amount of time - therefore they are scottish. Yet there is argument over even these categories....which leads to a version of the true scotsman fallacy again.

If I assert I am a space alien, or biologically female, or 7"4', there are verifiable tests to suggest that I am no such thing. Within a reasonable epistemological framework, I can cateorically rule out these tings.

Is christianity like scottishness or height in terms of the rigidity of category and evidence for believability?
posted by lalochezia at 4:26 PM on November 13, 2008


It was just a bit strange to post what I thought of as a pretty interesting and chewy matter only to meet a ridiculous LOLXTIAN barrage rushing out of the curtains, daggers high, but I guess it shouldn't have been surprising.

I think people just get touchy about towns putting up religious displays. I don't have any problem with most Christians, who generally practice their faith and leave me alone, but when we get to talking about religion getting mixed up with government it reminds me of all the people who like to politically push their religious agendas and yeah... when that comes up, defensiveness should be no surprise.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:34 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't think there is a lot to do in Pleasant Grove City, Utah (since they advertise yard sales on their city page) so I think they should turn the park into a religious symbol memorial and people could vote for their favorite by dropping money in a receptacle placed next to each. Let competition decide and give tourists a reason to stop in the city of trees.
posted by Bitter soylent at 4:44 PM on November 13, 2008


requires a belief in an independantly verifiable sottishness

And there are indeed, in most states, tests and legal standards for sottishness, often relating to BAC.
posted by weston at 4:46 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Mormons aren't Christians, they're Mormons. Just like Muslims aren't Christians either, despite the fact that they include Jesus among Muhammad's many prophets.
posted by hermitosis at 5:28 PM on November 13

what

Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, yes.

Mormons, however, believe their prophets take dictation for Jesus, "the Divine Son of God the Father, delivered to the earth by the virgin Mary." That's the very definition of a Christian. Their belief in a bunch of additional Joseph Smith wackiness in no way diminishes that any more than Protestants' Martin Luther wackiness, Anglicans' Henry VIII wackiness, or whichever of the Catholic and Orthodox wackinesses one considers wackiest.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:50 PM on November 13, 2008


We already had this discussion about whether mormons are christians before.

It's a debatable topic about which reasonable people can disagree.

For me personally, the only conceivable argument by which I can put Mormons comfortably in the same category as Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians is the "They are Christians because they claim to be" argument.

Otherwise, IMO, they're as Christian as Muslims are.

(i say this as a former Catholic, current atheist, descended from Mormons on my father's side, so I don't really have a dog in this fight).
posted by empath at 5:23 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's the very definition of a Christian.

I think you'll find that the definition can be quite a bit more complicated than that.

The Rolling Stones thought they were playing the Blues, but it was really Rock and Roll.
posted by empath at 5:31 PM on November 13, 2008


For me personally, the only conceivable argument by which I can put Mormons comfortably in the same category as Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians is the "They are Christians because they claim to be" argument.

It's not because they "claim to be." It's because they are. Your personal opinion is not a deciding factor in other peoples' religious beliefs.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:33 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've decided that since you all claim to be Mefites, I guess you are. We'll have to wait to hear the Supreme Court's decision, but there might be a giant Rick Astley statue in Grove City's future.
posted by Tehanu at 6:16 PM on November 13, 2008


I swear, every time I hear Nina on NPR doing her supreme court rundowns it sounds exactly like a MeFi thread full of straw men, ad hominems, and logical fallacies - and that's just from the justices.

It's the weirdest thing.
posted by odinsdream at 6:36 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, exactly like a MeFi thread missing all the cogent, sane rebuttal and debunking, which is apparently very rare.
posted by odinsdream at 6:36 PM on November 13, 2008


says you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:44 PM on November 13, 2008


To break the 'no true scotsman' fallacy requires a belief in an independantly verifiable sottishness.

Cool. Care to present who can indepentently verify Christianity?
posted by rodgerd at 7:36 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not because they "claim to be." It's because they are. Your personal opinion is not a deciding factor in other peoples' religious beliefs.

That sounds an awful lot like a personal opinion. As I said above, t's a debatable subject, and reasonable people can disagree. I think there about 4 or 5 equally valid definitions of the word "Christian", and by some definitions they are, and by some, they aren't.
posted by empath at 7:49 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


If a muslim asserts he's a christian, do we have to believe him. If I, as an atheist, assert "I'm a christian", do you have to believe me?

As an atheist, who cares?
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 7:53 PM on November 13, 2008


Obligatory West Wing scene.
posted by Tehanu at 7:56 PM on November 13, 2008


I guess a question to think about here is Stephen Pinker's question from the Stuff of Thought. If William Shakespeare may not actually the person that wrote the plays commonly attributed to him, then what does the term "William Shakespeare" refer to? The historical person who actually was named William Shakespeare, or the anonymous person that wrote Shakespeare's plays?

If we accept the premise that Jesus was an historical figure whose actual teachings can be known from the early Gospels or the reconstructed Q document, then the idea that Mormon's are actually followers of Christ (ie, Christians) is faintly ridiculous because they've added on a whole layer of fantasy on top of it.

If you believe that Jesus was a fantasy to begin with, then it's much easier to accept the concept that Mormons are Christians because they follow the same mythical construct whose name is Christ that other Christians do, just with a sequel added on.

If, you're Mormon, of course, you believe the book of Mormon is literally true, and that the Christ of the Book of Mormon is one and the as the Christ in the Gospels, and so of course you think of yourself is Christian.

I could come up with several other definitions of the word Christian that could or could not include Mormons (for example, which scriptures they use, their organizational relationship to the original church(es), differences in doctrinal belief and doctrine, etc)

It's not an easy question to answer, as the term "Christian" is a slippery concept, and is probably more of a continuum, then a hard and fast category, no matter which definition you use.

PERSONALLY, as I've said, they don't fit comfortably in the category of Christian for me, but I recognize that there is plenty of room for differing opinion.

Of course, if a Mormon told me he was Christian, I wouldn't argue with him, because everyone is entitled to their beliefs.
posted by empath at 8:03 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


To break the 'no true scotsman' fallacy requires a belief in an independantly verifiable sottishness.

I can't help but think of the song about the drunken scotsman and his kilt - "I don't know where ye been, laddie, but I can see you won first prize."
posted by newdaddy at 8:12 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Nonsense. If a muslim asserts he's a christian, do we have to believe him. If I, as an atheist, assert "I'm a christian", do you have to believe me?"

If a Muslim asserts he's a Christian, what in the world makes you think he's Muslim? If an "atheist" asserts he's a Christian, he can't be an atheist.

YOU don't get to decide what other people are or aren't, when the defining fact is one of faith or belief. It's not like a guy from New York telling everyone he is a native Texan. His origin is one of fact, and it cannot be changed, despite what he says.

If an atheist tells you he's Christian, but he's really an atheist and he knows it, he's putting you on. That's not the same thing as a Methodist saying he is a Christian and all the Baptists rolling their eyes and muttering under their breath "Not a True Christian, though".

I hated that shit when I went to church and I quit going because of that kind of self righteous bigotted bullshit.

The fundamental aspect of Christianity is faith in Christ as Savior. Period. The belief in a duality of God or the tripartite nature of God is irrelevant bullshit, as is the belief in sacred undergarments or hatred of gays.
posted by Xoebe at 8:50 PM on November 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


In a way this case is a very special dance DARING the city to explain why, 'if the sculpture is not endorsed by the government, and just put there, why can't we put ours there?' I think it sucks on the merits.

Yeah, like that lazy Rosa Parks. What, she can't stand up and move like 2 meters?
posted by Xezlec at 11:20 PM on November 13, 2008


What about if they replace the explicit Ten Commandments with a statue of Moses holding a tablet, inscribed A Giver of Law, as is the idea of the Commandments sculpture of the US Supreme Court? Where does that leave the Summum case if there is no Establishment Clause danger left in the government claiming that it's Government Speech? They still can't put up a cultural sculpture of their own, religious or not—they still lose out.

A nearly ideal outcome! Then other public places would presumably have to do the same, replacing overt religious propaganda with subtler, more "historically" approached sculpture (lest they face similar legal claims by similar fringe groups). Replacing all those Ten Commandments sculptures with sculptures of religious figures, labeled only in the context of their role as early figures in the ever-evolving history of Law, would be a big step forward for religious freedom. And you don't have to put up any wacko stuff either!

The one and only downside of this would be that we would have no grounds to fight for Tehanu's statue of Teddy Roosevelt fighting a velociraptor.
posted by Xezlec at 11:38 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a local with no dog in this fight, I'll just drop in a few random facts about Pleasant Grove, Utah.

- No, there is not anything to do there.
- It was originally named Battle Creek, Utah.
- It is a suburb of Provo, Utah, home of BYU.
- It lies 20 miles north of Utah's Hare Krishna Temple, which was built with the help of Mormon volunteers and a $25,000 donation from the Mormon church.

Also, Corky Ra (the recently deceased founder of Summum) once personally handed me a leaflet with the headline "ARE YOU AN ALIEN?" while I was waiting in line for a Stephen Hawking lecture in Salt Lake City. He had a pyramid in his yard, which my friends would drive by occasionally. Here it is on Google Street View.
posted by mmoncur at 4:06 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Haven't read the orals yet but I'm loving the discussion.

I'm trying to think of other generic descriptors that fail to mark off a coherent set in the same way that "Christian" does - "Westerner"? "Liberal"?

What I'm saying is, no matter what you mean by "Christian," it's always possible for someone to use (or mention) a different definition that contradicts (or at least adds something to) yours. It's sort of like the William Shakespeare puzzle mentioned by empath. But different. Whereas "William Shakespeare" denotes the entity that wrote the corpus of "Shakespeare's Works," "Christian"denotes about a million different things at once. It means way, way too much to actually mean anything - but of course it means *something* - right? And I'm not just talking about the denotation/connotation distinction - it's worse than that.

There's gotta be a word or phrase to describe that sort of denotational surfeit, but I don't know what it is.
posted by facetious at 5:22 AM on November 14, 2008


Xezlec, Civil Rights lawyers did not use Rosa Parks' case to challenge the segregation laws.

A lot of the civil rights movement got into unfortunate territory sometimes by taking things to court prematurely or arguing the wrong angle, or trying to use the courts for something that would be better pushed legislatively, resulting in judgments which proved to be setbacks for the cause. Bringing up Rosa Parks just proves you shouldn't take bad cases to court or to the wrong court.

Also, (I'm assuming the lawyers for Summum know what they're doing), even if it's good for them, winning on this angle is really going to fuck up the status of tens of thousands of statues around the country, since few of them are officially resolved as having been adopted by the governing civic body. The Supreme Court should not enter judgments that increase the working burden of city governments about the status of everything in their public parks all the way back hundreds of years and everything in the future.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:33 AM on November 14, 2008


The Supreme Court should not enter judgments that increase the working burden of city governments about the status of everything in their public parks all the way back hundreds of years and everything in the future.

The Supreme Court is not in the business of lightening the load of city governments, it's in the business of interpreting the Constitution. If the Constitution requires that government not favor one religion over another (which I'm pretty sure it does), then religious statues should not be in government-run parks. Why is it such a huge burden to send somebody out to take down the Ten Commandments or the statue of the Virgin Mary or whatever goddamn thing they've stuck in there thanks to a failure to grasp the separation of church and state?
posted by languagehat at 5:45 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


languagehat, the challenge is NOT that there's a Ten Commandments statue. The challenge is that there IS a private statue.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:50 AM on November 14, 2008


Also, a statement like 'the Court is not in the business of lightening government load' just ignores the currency of the Judicial Restraint interpretation of the constitution—it has to be interpreted, after all. The tricky part is that when it comes to things like the first amendment the court has sometimes seen it as a "super duper right" that trumps the imperative to not get meddlesome ("Preferred Freedoms.") Sorry to get all pedantic but I feel that all the knees jerking in the earlier parts of this thread are mostly jerking at the wrong things.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:58 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The tricky part is that when it comes to things like the first amendment the court has sometimes seen it as a "super duper right" that trumps the imperative to not get meddlesome

And this is as it should be. I don't give a good goddamn about "the currency of the Judicial Restraint interpretation of the constitution"; if the courts have to get meddlesome to make sure the First Amendment is respected, they should damn well get meddlesome.
posted by languagehat at 6:30 AM on November 14, 2008


I don't give a good goddamn about "the currency of the Judicial Restraint interpretation of the constitution"

So if someone in Kentucky wants to sue California for putting import taxes on their products, do you think the Supreme Court needs to get involved in decided what California can do?

if the courts have to get meddlesome to make sure the First Amendment is respected, they should damn well get meddlesome.

If this case is won on first amendment grounds, which outcome would you prefer?

(i) The government goes through every single statue in the United States deciding whether to endorse it or not. Anything that's not endorsed gets thrown out. The government stops operating things like museums where they just can't be endorsing every viewpoint of every item contained within.
(ii) The government doesn't have to endorse anything but everyone should be able to put anything in a public space, since it's their free speech. Let's have a Statue of Despotism on government land?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 6:47 AM on November 14, 2008


Sorry to get all pedantic but I feel that all the knees jerking in the earlier parts of this thread are mostly jerking at the wrong things.

Non Prosequitur, here's my probably unsuccessful attempt to orient the discussion back to where I think you wanted it to go:

And really, the Ten Commandments are being displayed as "civic history", not for religious reasons? Then where's Hammurabi's Code, the Corpus Juris Civilis, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, or the US Constitution (you know, the thing which outlaws government establishment of religion)?

Civic history =/= All Civic History. Electing to acknowledge one aspect of a topic does not obligate the government to acknowledge all other aspects of it. A statue of MLK, Jr. does not mean the government has to also have statues of Huey Newton or Malcolm X. A celebration of black history month doesn't obligate the government to have Burmese (or is it still Myanmarian?) history month to avoid problems with viewpoint discrimination.

Would it be more intellectually honest of the city to honor these other, more significant aspects of its civic history alongside the Ten Commandments? Yup. Is this whole "The Ten Commandments aren't an endorsement of religion, but secular government speech about our history" against the spirit of the law? At least arguably.

But courts rarely determine outcomes according to the spirit of the law. They're well-practiced in interpreting its letter, and disposing of cases based on that alone. Look at search and seizure cases for a prime example. Cops routinely use traffic violations as a pretense for stopping vehicles they suspect of carrying drivers/passengers involved in more serious crimes. Courts have said, with echolalic regularity, that that's okay because it falls within the letter of the Fourth Amendment.

The whole "civic history" argument feels like a cop-out to me too, but that doesn't matter. What does matter is whether that position can pass muster under constitutional law. I think that's at least conceivable, and thus the argument is a good solution to an otherwise maddeningly complex problem.

If one can post religious tracts as public monuments with a "civic history" disclaimer on them, then that opens the door to local governments being able to skirt the separation of church and state in a huge number of ways. Cities could plaster the downtown with giant crosses and bible quotations as long as there's maybe a sticker-sized disclaimer that this is for an acknowledgement of the role these played in civic history. The city could distribute flyers with the ten commandments on them door to door, and pay to have preachers reciting famous sermons on the city hall steps (with dedicated city video)...just as long as it was of "historical interest".

Go with the "historical significance" argument, and one might as well just toss the constitution, and ready the bonfires for the pagans.


Try not to hurt yourself skiing down that slippery slope, because you're moving awfully fast. There's almost certainly a limit to what even the most sympathetic Court would consider "civic history" versus a functional endorsement of religion masquerading as the former. As I said above, someone could at least argue with a straight face that a monument of the Ten Commandments is something other than an endorsement of religion. That's particularly true in light of the fact that similar government speech has been accepted in the past, i.e. the statute in the courtroom on One First Street itself.

Plastering downtown with religious symbols and Biblical billboards is something I don't think anyone could seriously defend on those grounds. It's hard to know where the line in the sand would be, and ultimately it's not up to me to decide where it is anyway. I just think that, based on what I've seen out of the Roberts court (and the Rehnquist court before it), they'd never put crosses or billboards on the right side of it.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 7:08 AM on November 14, 2008


I don't respect American Cheese (the style of cheese known as "American," that is, not just any cheese made in America), but it's not useful to deny that it is cheese.

To expand upon lostburner's comment, there is a legal reason why the Kraft label calls it "American Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product" instead of "American cheese." Cheese is one of the food item's ingredients, but it's no longer actual cheese.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Processed_cheese#Legal_issues

...Wait, what were you all talking about?
posted by aught at 7:18 AM on November 14, 2008


Law Talkin' Guy But self evidently the purpose of the statue and case is to get a foot in the door for government endorsement of religion. Sure, they'll have to come up with some nonsense song and dance about how the next "fuck you non-Christians" monument a city wants to put up is *really* about civic history (wink-wink, nudge-nudge), but if the city wins it represents a significant weakening of the idea of secular government.

If Christians want to erect a big ass idol to commandments they don't obey [1] they can do it on private land. Why do they keep insisting on putting such monuments in public parks instead of in churchyards?

Soon we'll be into the season of inevitable creche fights. Some group of Christians will want to put up a creche in front of a courthouse, or on some other bit of public land. Not, you'll note in a churchyard. Why the obsessive desire to put up Christian monuments on public land?

The only explanation that makes any sense at all is bullying. By putting up idols endorsing the Christian religion on *public* land there is an obvious statement being made: the government is bowing to Christianity and non-Christians had better remember their place.

If they want to put up Christian idols on their own land, or on church land that's not only fine but its their Constitutionally protected right and I'll fight, both literally and figuratively, in defense of that right. But putting up Christian idols on government land is another thing entirely, I cannot see that there is any purpose there but to subvert the concept of secular government, to assert strongly that Christianity is the favored religion of the government, and to promote the idea that the government endorses Christianity and treats Christians as a privileged class.

Or can you come up with some other reason why Christians want to put up big honking Christian idols on public land?

[1] Seriously, when was the last time you heard of a Christian refusing to take pictures? "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" That would seem to forbid lolcats, baby pictures, and I think you could make a good case for it forbidding statues of the ten commandments in that they aren't copies of the text so much as they are an image or likeness of the original tablets. Oh! And crosses, those are images or likenesses of the cross Jesus was supposedly crucified on. My, how those Christians obey the commandments they want to shove down my throat.
posted by sotonohito at 1:27 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Xezlec, Civil Rights lawyers did not use Rosa Parks' case to challenge the segregation laws.

Oops. Well, it still illustrates what I was trying to get across, which is that just because a case is over something small that shouldn't individually matter much, that doesn't mean pursuing it to try and overturn an unconstitutional law isn't the right thing to do.

All I'm saying is that the whole point of the Supreme Court is to decide what the law is, and as I understood it, taking these kind of "examples" to the Supreme Court was the whole idea. Saying that a Supreme Court case specifically designed to point out a major constitutionality question "sucks on the merits" seems to miss the whole point of that Court.

Also, (I'm assuming the lawyers for Summum know what they're doing), even if it's good for them, winning on this angle is really going to fuck up the status of tens of thousands of statues around the country, since few of them are officially resolved as having been adopted by the governing civic body. The Supreme Court should not enter judgments that increase the working burden of city governments about the status of everything in their public parks all the way back hundreds of years and everything in the future.

I don't think they should win. They are arguing that they should get to put up their weird sculpture. I'm specifically saying they shouldn't, and there shouldn't be any Ten Commandments sculptures either. In my view, the correct judgement is that this is government speech, even though that means reversing the court's earlier (contrived) position, which it adopted in order to skirt an Establishment Clause issue. Since the game will be exposed for the sham it is, this end-run around the Establishment Clause will no longer be tenable, and the Court will (eventually) have to admit that Ten Commandments displays in public parks are not OK.

I understand that this will force city governments around the country to reevaluate the status of these monuments. That's the whole point. I believe that those monuments are doing damage to our culture and society by helping to perpetuate the "Christian Nation" myth and assisting in the indoctrination of millions. Yes, I know city governments will have work to do. It was also a lot of expense to desegregate the schools in cities across the nation, but that doesn't mean it was wrong for the Supreme Court to go there.
posted by Xezlec at 9:54 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Xoebe, the hatred of gays is by definition un-Christlike, and therefore unchristian.
posted by tehloki at 1:27 AM on November 15, 2008


Xezlec, I appreciate that you made your point based on the facts of the case rather than issuing easy polemics that miss by a mile. Thanks. It's easy to rant about the the establishment clause about the first amendment--hell I can do it too--but if it was that simple the nine justices, the 10th Circuit, all these judges down the line would just be morons for thinking of this case as a real puzzler.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 9:21 AM on November 15, 2008


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