Jewish Groups at Odds on Monument Case

Jewish groups are divided in strategy over a Supreme Court case involving the display of a religious monument.

The court heard arguments Wednesday in the case involving a small religious group, the Summum, that wants to display its “Seven Aphorisms” in a park in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Lower courts have upheld the sect’s arguments that the park’s display of the Ten Commandments should allow the Summum display under equal access principles.

The American Jewish Committee is leading some Jewish and secular groups in a brief that dissents both from the Summum and the town in arguing that any display of religious monuments violates the Establishment Cause of the Constitution banning government’s elevation of one faith over another.

The American Jewish Congress, meanwhile, is siding with the Summum, saying that if the city is going to allow one religious display, it must allow all.

Marc Stern, AJCongress’ counsel, says that a Supreme Court decision three years ago allowing the display of the Ten Commandments in Texas means that an Establishment Clause challenge is likely to fail, especially with the addition of two new conservative justices in the interim.

“We really don’t want to see a lot of free-standing monuments in the park,” Stern said. “But my argument is, if we’re going to have some, I’d rather have a lot, and if there are a lot, no particular group enjoys sanction of government.”

Jeff Sinensky, the AJCommittee’s counsel, agreed that precedent made this case “a tough one to win, but we felt we were better served if the case were returned to the lower court with an Establishment Clause analysis.”

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