Sect asks to erect monument while suit is pending

Pleasant Grove » Summum wants its Seven Aphorisms to join Ten Commandments in city park.
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Pleasant Grove on Friday asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit by a Salt Lake City religious group seeking equal space for its own marker in a city park that has a Ten Commandments monument.

But Summum, a small sect based on Gnostic Christianity, asked U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball to keep the suit alive and for permission to erect a display of its Seven Aphorisms while the matter is pending.

At the center of the dispute are the Establishment Clauses in the state and federal constitutions, which prohibit the promotion of one religion over another.

Geoffrey Surtees, a lawyer for Pleasant Grove, argued that the Ten Commandments display in the city's Pioneer Park conveys a secular historical message, which the U.S. Supreme Court has said is permissible.

But Summun's attorney, Brian Barnard, contended that the monument advances religion and that Pleasant Grove must give other religious messages equal consideration.

"They are a mandate from God, the Judeo-Christian God," Barnard said of the Ten Commandments.

Kimball said he will issue a ruling later in the dispute, which has garnered national attention.

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.

The ruling did not address whether Pleasant Grove violated the Establishment Clause, which sent the matter back to Utah's federal court.