Jewish groups differ on Summum ruling


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two Jewish rights groups are split on the implications of a Supreme Court decision involving the display of a religious monument.

The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the unanimous ruling that the Summum religious group could not display its "Seven Aphorisms" in a public park in Utah, while the American Jewish Congress was "disappointed but not surprised."

The Summum argued that it should be allowed to erect its monument in Pleasant Grove alongside a display of the Ten Commandments on free-speech grounds.

The ADL, which had joined with the American Jewish Committee and other religious and church-state separation groups in a friend of the court brief on the case, said it believed that the court’s decision to treat the matter as a "free-speech case" was wrong, but it was significant that the court noted as part of its analysis that when the government chooses monuments to display, "it ‘must comport with the Establishment Clause’ and cannot promote or endorse religion."

In a statement from ADL civil rights chair Marvin Nathan and civil rights director Deborah Laufer, the group also said the ruling will not "disturb the bedrock constitutional principle that government may not favor one religion over another" and thus the issue remains "alive for adjudication on another day."

AJCongress, which also filed an amicus brief in the case, said in a statement that because the Ten Commandments monument was treated "as if it were wholly government speech," the decision was "unobjectionable." But it believes that treating that monument as official speech is a "gross oversimplification of the facts" and will cause problems in the future.

"No doubt, future cases will confront the Court with the need to consider the Establishment Clause implications of municipalities selectively displaying symbols of majority faiths while refusing to display those of minority faiths," the AJCongress statement added. "Today’s decision will inevitably encourage municipalities to favor religious displays of majority faiths."

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