Utah Gnostic Group Sues to Have Display Next to Ten Commandments

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By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
November 8, 2011|7:39 pm

A Utah-based religious group is suing the city of Pleasant Grove over its decision to not allow them to place a monument on public property next to a Ten Commandments display.

Summum, a Gnostic sect founded in 1975 that practices “Modern Mummification,” has brought Pleasant Grove’s government before a Utah state court with the intention of getting their “Seven Aphorisms” monument placed alongside the Decalogue.

Geoffrey Surtees, attorney from the American Center for Law and Justice, is defending the city government in court.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, though the Decalogue has ‘religious significance,’ it is clear that ‘the Ten Commandments have an undeniable historical meaning,’” said Surtees told The Christian Post.

Surtees explained that Pleasant Grove Park, the location of the Ten Commandments monument in Salt Lake City, is displaying the Decalogue for historical reasons.

“We are confident that the city will prevail in this and that Pleasant Grove City will be permitted to continue displaying its Ten Commandments monument without being forced to display any and all monuments donated by every group that wants to erect one,” said Surtees.

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The effort to get the “Seven Aphorisms,” believed by Summum members to have come from Moses like the Ten Commandments, placed at Pioneer Park has been a years-long struggle.

In 2003, Summum donated their monument to the “Seven Aphorisms” to Pleasant Grove for the purpose of being displayed at Pioneer Park. Jim Danklef, mayor of the city at the time, rejected their monument.

Danklef reasoned that Pleasant Grove would only allow monuments on display at Pioneer Park that were either germane to Pleasant Grove’s history or were donated by an organization with longstanding ties to the community.

“Summum's equal access argument under the Utah Constitution fails because the Ten Commandments monument on display in the City's park is not the speech of the Fraternal Order of Eagles (the group that donated the monument), but the expression of Pleasant Grove City,” said Surtees.

In 2005, Summum members again tried to get their monument put on display at Pioneer Park and they were rejected once more.

From there, the Gnostic group filed suit in federal court, initially garnering a favorable ruling in 2007 from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a major church-state watchdog group, weighed in on the effort, stating that neither monument should be at the park.

“Religion plays so central a role in civil as well as personal identity in American society that when government associates itself with, or expresses a preference for, any denomination, it marks those of other faiths with a badge of inferiority just as insidious as when government prefers one race to another,” said Americans United in a friend-of-the-court brief.

Last year, the United States Supreme Court rejected Summum’s establishment clause and free speech arguments.

Summum’s pyramid-shaped headquarters is located in Salt Lake City. The group could not be reached for comment.

“At this time, Summum is not participating in any interviews with the media,” reads their website.

 

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