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Summum wants lawsuit against Duchesne dismissed

Decision comes after Duchesne relocates Ten Commandments

Published: Wednesday, June 3 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

DUCHESNE — An attorney for the Salt Lake City-based religion Summum has asked a federal judge to dismiss the group's lawsuit against the city of Duchesne.

Brian M. Barnard, in a motion filed Friday, asked for the lawsuit to be dropped because Duchesne moved a Ten Commandments monument from Roy Park to the city cemetery in April.

"We are saddened that the Ten Commandments monument has been removed from the city park in Duchesne," Summum President Su Menu said.

"Summum has never requested that religious monuments be removed from government property. We have only asked that all religions be given equal access," Menu said. "Just as the citizens of Duchesne have benefited from the display of the Decalogue, so, too, would they have benefited from the display of our Seven Aphorisms."

Members of Summum draw their inspiration from ancient Egyptian teachings and principles. Summum members have argued that monuments bearing their Seven Aphorisms should be displayed wherever the Ten Commandments are placed — citing their rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Summum sued Duchesne in 2003 over the city's refusal to allow the group to erect its own monument in Roy Park. One year later, the city sold the land where the Ten Commandments monument stood to the family who had originally donated the statue.

The case — and a companion case that pitted Summum against Pleasant Grove — wound its way through the federal-court system. Then on Feb. 25, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Summum's monuments do not have the same legal standing as the Ten Commandments.

Justice Samuel Alito, in the case of Pleasant Grove v. Summum, wrote that displaying the commandments is a form of "government speech" and does not follow any obligations for balanced representation of other religions.

The Supreme Court, and in turn the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, sent the Pleasant Grove case back to the federal trial court for reconsideration. The higher courts told the trial judge to examine Summum's claims against Duchesne, as well.

Barnard said Duchesne's decision to move the monument to the city cemetery meant "the underlying facts of the case changed dramatically" before a federal judge in Salt Lake City had a chance to apply the Supreme Court ruling.

"Because the Ten Commandments have been removed from the city park, the basis for Summum's lawsuit has ended," the attorney said. "The city has ceased its long-standing unfair practice of favoring one set of religious beliefs to the exclusion of others."

Barnard said that while the cemetery is still city property, there is a historical and cultural distinction between parks and cemeteries that makes the placement of the monument there OK.

"Cemeteries have traditionally been a place for religious expression," Barnard said. "Grave markers, tombstones have always had religious symbols on them. And individual plots are normally considered to be owned by the family."

Summum's lawsuit against Pleasant Grove is still ongoing. The group is now claiming that the city's display of the Ten Commandments, if it is considered government speech, represents a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Duchesne officials decided to move the Ten Commandments monument from Roy Park to the cemetery to avoid continued litigation. Unlike Pleasant Grove, whose park includes several other donated monuments or displays, Duchesne's park only had the Ten Commandments monument.

"Our attorney said it would (establish) a religion for the city," Duchesne city recorder Diane Miller said. "So since we had nothing else to put with the monument, we just decided to move it."

E-MAIL: geoff@ubstandard.com

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