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Non-LDS faith wants high school land for its own seminary

Published August 12, 2011 8:53 am

Draper • Group's lawyer says, "Government must be neutral when it comes to religion."
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Students at the new high school under construction in Draper could get a unique opportunity — release time seminary taught by Summum, a Salt Lake City-based religion that practices meditation and mummification.

On Monday, Canyons School District received a letter from Su Menu, president of Summum, inquiring about purchasing land adjacent to the planned schoolhouse, which has been designated as a "seminary" on an architectural site plan. The $55-million high school is scheduled to open in fall 2013.

The Canyons board hasn't had a chance yet to discuss Summum's letter, but the LDS Church has expressed an interest in purchasing the property, said Canyons spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook.



"The Canyons Board of Education's intent from the beginning has been to reserve a portion of this land for use by a religious organization for released-time instruction," she said, noting the parcel is about an acre in size.

But the fact that there is a building labeled "seminary," a term commonly used by the LDS Church for its high school religious instruction, raises concerns, said Brian Barnard, an attorney who represents Summum.

"Government must be neutral when it comes to religion. … Government must not favor one religion over another," he said. "The fact that the school district is engaging in conversations with one religious group about that land and not doing it publicly raises some red flags."

Last year, 83,634 of Utah's 150,572 high school students were enrolled in LDS seminary classes, which are commonly offered at LDS Church-owned buildings near public high schools. Utah law allows students to be released from school, with their parents' permission, for religious instruction. They do not receive any credits toward graduation for those classes.

"What we're interested in is teaching the principles of the universe, of creation," Menu said, noting this would be the faith's first seminary. "We embrace all religions. We feel like they are all correct. That's part of what Summum is about, reconciliation of all religions into a oneness."

Summum was founded in 1975 by Corky Ra, who died in 2008 and was the first human to be mummified using a process he developed. His mummiform is on display in the group's sanctuary, a bronze-colored pyramid, which is often visited by students of Egyptology, Menu said. Mummification is part of a Summum belief in "transference" and is meant to ease the spirit's passage after death.

In 2005, Summum sued Pleasant Grove when it refused to allow a Summum religious marker of its seven principles next to a Ten Commandments monument in a city park. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2009 that Summum's free-expression rights had not been violated.

It's possible the Draper seminary question could lead to a lawsuit.

"If the school district makes a decision that is unconstitutional, then Summum will deal with that if that happens," Barnard said. "We're going to proceed on the presumption that the school board is going to act in a fair, conscientious and constitutional manner."

rwinters@sltrib.com —

What's next

P The Canyons School District board could discuss the sale of land for released time, religious instruction at its next meeting. But Utah law allows real estate transactions to be discussed in closed session. The Aug. 16 meeting is at 9361 S. 300 East, Sandy. Check canyonsdistrict.org for an agenda. To see the Draper High School site plan, showing the location of the seminary building, see bit.ly/oEG3RD.

 

 

 

 

 

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