Judge dismisses request for equal space with Ten Commandments

Summum : Group wanted to display its Seven Aphorisms in Pleasant Grove park.

The Salt Lake Tribune/June 3, 2010

A federal judge on Thursday tossed out a lawsuit by a Salt Lake City religious group seeking equal space for its own marker in a Pleasant Grove city park that has a Ten Commandments monument.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ruled that Pleasant Grove has displayed the Ten Commandments monument "for reasons of history, not religion." And there is no evidence city officials were aware of Summum's religious beliefs and, therefore, were not favoring one religion over another when they refused its request to put up its Seven Aphorisms monument, he said.

The decision did leave a door open for Summum, a small sect based on Gnostic Christianity. The judge threw out its claim on the merits for equal space under the federal Constitution but dismissed a Utah constitutional claim without prejudice, meaning the suit could be refiled in state court.

Brian Barnard, a Salt Lake City attorney for Summum, said the group is considering that option.

"We are saddened and disappointed," Barnard said. "The case is and always has been a matter of simple fairness. If one group can display their religious beliefs in the park, all groups should be allowed to do so."

Summum - which was founded in 1975 and is headquartered in a pyramid-shaped temple - encourages some Egyptian practices, such as mummification. The religion's aphorisms involve psychokinesis, correspondence, vibration, opposition, rhythm, cause and effect, and gender.

The group sued Pleasant Grove in 2005 over its refusal to let it put up its monument. After a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson blocked Summum from erecting a monument while the case was pending, the lawsuit went to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Denver-based court ruled that the city had to permit Summum's display to further free speech.

Pleasant Grove appealed, and in a 2009 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Summum's free-expression rights had not been violated. The court said municipalities have a right to select monuments that reflect the local aesthetics, history or culture.

At the time, then-Pleasant Grove Mayor Mike Daniels said the decision affirms what the city believed all along: The park reflects the city's identity and culture.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling did not address whether Pleasant Grove violated the Establishment Clause, which sent the matter back to Utah's federal court and led to Kimball's ruling.

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