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Utah religious group sues to display monument

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 9 2011 12:15 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah religious group has asked a state court judge to order the city of Pleasant Grove to place its monument in a park — a move that follows a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that rejected a similar request from the group.

Summum, a small Gnostic Christianity-based sect based in Salt Lake City, hopes to place a granite marker in the park that has also been home to a Ten Commandments monument for 40 years.

Summum's monument would list the Seven Aphorisms, the foundation for the group's belief system. Summum believes Moses received the aphorisms along with the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and destroyed the tablet containing the aphorisms because he saw the Israelites weren't ready for them.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that governments can control the monuments it allows on public property without violating the U.S. Constitution. A federal judge in Salt Lake City dismissed the group's lawsuit against Pleasant Grove in 2010.

Summum has a stronger argument in state court because of previous rulings by the state Supreme Court, the group's attorney, Brian Barnard, said Monday.

Also, the Utah constitution prohibits the use of government money or resources for religious instruction or support of an established religion, Barnard said. By allowing the Ten Commandments and not the Seven Aphorisms, the group's constitutional rights are being violated, he said.

"If a government is going to give support to one religion, it has to give support to all religions," he said.

The Ten Commandments monument was donated to Pleasant Grove in 1971 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and stands alongside 14 other historical displays in the park.

Governments have the right to regulate monuments on public property, said Geoff Surtees, an attorney who works for the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., and will represent the city in the case.

Unlike speeches or prayers before a public meeting, a monument is permanent, he said.

"Nobody is saying Summum can't come to the park and speak about their principles," Surtees said. "But a monument is permanent, and it becomes the speech of the government."

Also, despite the religious origins of the Ten Commandments, Surtees said they are historical because of their influence on the founding documents of America and the Mormon pioneers that settled Utah.

That's essentially the same argument that Justice Samuel Alito offered in his opinion for the high court in 2009.

The case is currently awaiting its first hearing in Utah's 4th District Court. A hearing was scheduled for last week, but was canceled at the requests of ACLJ and Pleasant Grove.

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