Caving in to the crackpots

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. It does not guarantee an audience that must listen. It does not guarantee you access to someone else's forum.

If you write a letter to the editor of this newspaper or any other, there is no obligation to for us to publish it.

Why should it be any different when it comes to public parks?

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case in which a bizarre religious sect demanded a monument containing its pseudo-religious tenets be placed in a public park in a suburb of Salt Lake City.

The church of Summum wants to erect a monument containing its Seven Aphorisms in Pioneer Park in Pleasant Grove City. The church's tenets are a bunch of New Age mumbo jumbo about psychokinesis and vibration and mummification. It was founded in 1975 and is based in a pyramid in Salt Lake City.

Church officials argue that, because the park already has a monument displaying the Ten Commandments, it has a First Amendment free-speech right to equal access to taxpayer-funded park space. They did not argue based on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibiting state-sanctioned religion.

Last year, a federal appeals court sided with the church and ordered the monument to be placed in the park.

There is a big difference between privately funded speech and taxpayer-funded speech, but taking this argument to its extreme could produce ridiculous results.

"If the authorities place a statue of Ulysses S. Grant in the park, the First Amendment does not require them also to install a statue of Robert E. Lee," the attorneys general of 13 states argued in an amicus brief.

Even more outrageous is the suggestion that a monument to the victims of 9/11 might have to share space with a monument donated by al-Qaida.

During arguments Wednesday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked, "When you have a Statue of Liberty, would you have to have a Statue of Despotism?"

All are free to speak but they can't require us to listen or contribute public park space for it.

Two liberal bastions disagree. Both The New York Times and the Las Vegas Sun jettisoned thousands of years of tradition and Western philosophy. Their ever-gullible editorial page editors swallowed the hokum perpetrated by this band of practical jokers masquerading as a congregation.

"The federal appeals court reached the right result, but regrettably, it ducked the issue at the heart of the case, which turns on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," the Times pontificated. "The real problem is that Pleasant Grove City elevated one religion, traditional Christianity, over another, Summum. The founders regarded this sort of religious preference as so odious that they included a specific provision in the First Amendment prohibiting it."

Just because the U.S. Supreme Court building has the Ten Commandments displayed on a frieze, that doesn't make Christianity the state religion. Nor is there a crying need to add the tenets of every crackpot, tax-dodging band of fools.

What next? The scribblings of the Church of Ralph?

Never heard of the Church of Ralph? That was a bunch of Texas bikers who claimed beer was their sacramental beverage of choice and argued they should not be required to pay the taxes on it.

The very first sentence on the first page of the Web site for the Summum religion states, "Summum is a 501(c)(3) and 170(b)(1)(A)(i) tax exempt organization incorporated in the State of Utah, USA in 1975. One of the by-laws and basic tenets of Summum is the practice of the rites of Mummification and Transference. In 1986, the practice of these rites was formally recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as exempt from federal taxation."

Be sure to visit the online gift shop.

But the editorialists at the Times believe, "Public property like Pioneer Park must be open to all religions on an equal basis -- or open to none at all."

So the Times wants to allow equal space next to "Thou shalt not kill" for "Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates."

The First Amendment is a serious effort to prohibit government interfering with our lives. It should not be abused and made an excuse for every bunch of lunatic-fringe jokers.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and the First Amendment. He may be reached at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.con. Read his blog at