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Seminary for all

Published August 11, 2011 11:45 pm

District can't favor LDS Church
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When you use the word "seminary" in the same breath as Utah public schools, most people automatically think "LDS Church."

That's because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has built a seminary on private property adjacent to every secondary school in the state. Last year, 83,634 of Utah's 150,572 high school students were enrolled in LDS seminary classes.

The practice is so ingrained that the Canyons School District has designated a location for a "seminary" on its architectural site plan for a new high school in Draper set to open in 2013. The district plans to sell the property to a church, and we would not be out of line in assuming it has in mind an LDS seminary.

LDS seminaries are the Mormon version of the extensive private Catholic school system. But they piggyback on the public schools, which have adopted a program of released time so that students can take a period or two out of their schedule to attend religion classes.

It all works well, especially since having so many students taking LDS courses off-campus during the day relieves the overcrowded public schools. If it weren't for released-time classes, Utah's rock-bottom per-pupil expenditure on education would be even lower.

It's a cozy arrangement that fits with the U.S. Constitution's mandate that government favor no religion and seems to benefit everyone in this LDS-dominated culture.

Enter the Summum church.

Su Menu, president of Summum, a Salt Lake City-based religion that practices meditation and mummification, has sent a letter to the school district to inquire about purchasing the property designated for a seminary. And why not?

As Summum attorney Brian Barnard says, the publicly funded school district cannot favor any religion over any other. If it has property to sell that has been reserved for a religious organization that would offer students courses through the released-time program, it should ask for bids from all churches that may be interested.

Summum was founded in 1975. After his death in 2008, its founder was the first human to be mummified using a process he developed. The church teaches its own principles of creation, and members believe all religions are correct.

Enrollment in a Summum seminary may be sparse compared to the number of students who attend LDS seminary classes. But that shouldn't influence the district. It must make the property available for bidding by all churches equally. The Constitution demands it.




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