SALT LAKE CITY — The Seven Aphorisms of Summum will not join the Ten Commandments on display in a Pleasant Grove park.
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the city that claimed it violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by allowing a Ten Commandments monument but rejecting one showing the Salt Lake-based religious sect's beliefs. The clause in the First Amendment prohibits government from adopting a national religion.
Pleasant Grove built the monument in Pioneer Park 39 years ago for historical, not religious, reasons, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball wrote. "Moreover, there is no evidence that anyone in Pleasant Grove government had any idea what Summum's religious beliefs were, and thus it cannot be said that the Pleasant Grove government demonstrated a preference for one religion over another."
The decision effectively ends for now a prolonged legal battle, part of which was fought in the U.S. Supreme Court. Kimball dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning Summum could file a claim in state court.
Summum attorney Brian Barnard said the religious sect is considering its options.
"The case is and always has been a matter of simple fairness," he said. "If one group can display their religious beliefs in the park, all groups should be allowed to do so."
In 2003, Summum sought to place its Seven Aphorisms, which outline its philosophy, in the park. Pleasant Grove denied the request, saying it only puts up monuments that directly relate to its history or were donated by groups with long-standing ties to the community. The following year, the City Council passed a resolution putting that in writing.
Summum tried again in 2005 and was denied. Its subsequent lawsuit argued that the city couldn't allow some displays in a public park and reject others without violating the First Amendment right of free speech. A federal appeals court in Denver agreed, concluding parks are traditionally public forums, and ordered the city to erect the Seven Aphorisms.
Pleasant Grove appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court ruled that monuments in Pioneer Park represent government speech but the city could not be forced to place the Seven Aphorisms among them.
"A public park, over the years, can provide a soapbox for a very large number of orators — often, for all who want to speak — but it is hard to imagine how a public park could be opened up for the installation of permanent monuments by every person or group wishing to engage in that form of expression," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a unanimous opinion issued February 2009.
Summum, a Latin word meaning the highest or greatest, is a religion rooted in Gnostic Christianity, whose Seven Aphorisms it believes are the stone tablets created before the Ten Commandments when Moses communed with God on Mount Sinai. The Seven Aphorisms were destroyed when Moses witnessed the behavior of the Israelites, according to Summum, and instead passed on the Ten Commandments to the people.