US Supreme Court to hear Ten Commandments case

The Christian Science Monitor today ( reports that the US Supreme Court has decided to take up the case as to whether the display of the Ten Commandments the Utah public park constitute a form of government speech which is not allowed to everyone.   The Salt Lake City based Summum church requested to have a monument of their Seven Aphorisms erected next to the Ten Commandment monument (  

The Seven Aphorisms, the Summum Church contends are the first set of laws or commandments given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai.  These were the first set of tablets that Moses broke into pieces when he saw the people of Israel behaving in a manner not worthy of receiving these laws.   The Summum church claims these Seven Aphorisms survived through oral tradition and is found in the teachings of Jewish Mysticism (The Kabbalah) and in Christian Gnosticism.   When the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah refused to allow the monument, the church sued claiming their Free Speech Amendment rights were violated.

The Federal judge hearing the case found for the city. However, the 10th US Court of the Appeals found for the church. This case now goes to the US Supreme court in the fall. 

What is at stake here however is more than simply allowing another religious voice to place a monument on public lands.  The City of Casper, Wyoming filed a friend of the court brief regarding this case.  Rev. Fred Phelps’ church is seeking to use the 10th US Court of Appeals case to have a monument placed next to their Ten Commandment monument in their city park.  Casper is the home for Matthew Shepard. who was brutally murdered and tied to a fence in cruciform for being gay.   Rev. Fred Phelps, as we might remember attended Shepard’s funeral with pictures of the young man surrounded with flames indicating he is now in hell for his sins.   Phelps wants to place next to the Ten Commandment monument in Casper, WY;  a monument stating: “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.’ Lev. 18:22.”

The decision of the 10th US Court of Appeals places the City of Casper in a bind.  The language of Rev. Fred Phelps is what people have defined as hate speech.  Yet, should it be allowed in a public forum to preserve Freedom of Speech and to prevent a form of government speech?  Does allowing such a hate filled monument then become seen as the sanctioned voice of the government because it is on public land? 

Strictly from an ethical standpoint, I am at a loss to this question.  I understand the argument presented by the Summum church to Pleasant Grove.  AND, I most definitely understand the question raised in Casper, WY where they do not want to honor in any way the murderous actions of those who killed Matthew Shepard but may be forced to if the ruling of the 10th US Court is upheld by the Supreme Court. 

What is clear to me from these proceedings is this: our actions to seek justice in one location could have profound and negative unjust actions result in another location.  We need to be deligent to explore as many possible outcomes in advance of our deciding what causes of justice we are eager to fight for in our society. 

Ours is a faith that comes with no easy answers.  We have no doctrine that delineates easily our actions into concrete right and wrong.  We must search for those answers to the best of our ability and know that an honest responsible search for truth and meaning is enough.   It also means that if we are later proved to have erred, that we accept our errors and begin love again. 


Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 5:10 pm  Comments Off on US Supreme Court to hear Ten Commandments case  
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