A religious group has asked a federal judge to require the city of Duchesne to remove a Ten Commandments memorial from a city park or allow it to build their equivalent nearby.
The Salt Lake City-based Summum religious sect, which practices mummification, winemaking and sexual ecstasy, is seeking permission to build a monument of similar size displaying their Seven Aphorisms. Summum worshippers argue that the city is violating their First Amendment rights by allowing the Ten Commandments plaque and denying their request to build a similar one.
The group has filed similar lawsuits in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Pleasant Grove. Judges threw out the suits involving Salt Lake and Ogden, though the dismissals were reversed on appeal by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In both cases, the cities chose to remove the monuments instead of allowing construction of the Seven Aphorisms.
The case hasn’t yet reached trial in Pleasant Grove.
Duchesne city attorney Cindy Barton-Coombs argued that the city didn’t have to allow Summum worshippers the same outlet for religious expression because the land wasn’t technically public property anymore.
In August, the city sold an 11 feet by 10 feet plot on which the monument stands to the Lions Club for $10 and services that benefit the community.
But Salt Lake City attorney Brian Barnard, representing Summum, said the plot’s low price and vague terms showed Duchesne sold the land only to avoid a lawsuit. Summum’s aphorisms — which spell out the faith’s principles — should enjoy the same exposure on public land that the commandments had for nearly 25 years.
“They believe the Seven Aphorisms are complementary to the Ten Commandments, and if the city would allow them both the world would be a better place,” Barnard said.
Barnard asked U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson to issue a temporary restraining order allowing Summum worshippers to erect their own monument until a permanent decision is made. Benson did not say how or when he would rule.
Benson was the same lower court judge who dismissed the 1997 suit against Salt Lake City.
Summum followers claim that since its inception in 1975, 250,000 people have received its teachings. No official membership rolls are kept, nor does the church collect offerings or accept donations.