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Court allows religious monument

Without dissent, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that governments may accept permanent religious monuments in public parks without violating the rights of others who are denied a chance to have a different religious icon sharing park space.  Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., wrote for the Court in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (07-665).  Such a monument, whether government financed or privately donated, must be considered “government speech,” conveying a message that it wishes to get out about “esthetics, history, and local culture.”  Four Justices filed concurring opinions, representing the views of six Justices, thus requiring their views to be taken into account in determining just when governments may put up such monuments on public property.

The ruling turned solely on the Constitution’s Free Speech Clause. A religious sect, the Summum, contended that its free speech rights were violated when the city of Pleasant Grove City, Utah., accepted a Ten Commandments monument in its public park but refused to accept a monument displaying tenets of the Summum faith.  The “Seven Aphorisms” of that faith represent what believers view as the contents of the original tablets handed down by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Justice Alito’s opinion noted that, when acceptance of a Ten Commandments or other religious monument is treated as conveying the message of the government, the free speech clause does not apply, since that clause only restricts government regulation of private speech.  Even if the government speaks through a display provided by some private person or group, the opinion added, that does not take away from its character as government speech.

Alito added that the government, however, is not free to utter a message that violates the Constitution’s ban on official “establishment” of religion.  That, however, was not at issue in the Summum case at this point.

In a second ruling Wednesday, also without dissent, the Court ruled that a claim of “price squeeze” may not be pursued under the Sherman Act’s anti-monopoly section, if the targeted company that sells at both wholesale and retail but has no duty under antitrust principles to deal with others at the wholesale level, where it has a monopoly.  A “price squeeze” involves selling at high prices in its wholesale sales and low prices at retail to undercut rival retail sellers. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote for the Court in Pacific Bell, et al., v. linkLine Communications (07-512).  Four Justices joined in only the result, not the Roberts opinion.  The ruling was a victory for several West Coast affiliates of AT&T Corp. that together provide telephone lines used for DSL connections to the Internet.

The Court has now finished releasing opinions for the day.