After seven years of fundraisers, meetings and blueprint drafts, progress on the planned Emigration Canyon Historic Monument came to a halt this month.
Stakes were already in place marking the perimeter of the proposed monument funded by the Sugar House chapter of Sons of Utah Pioneers when the monument's co-project manager, Stan Fishler, received a phone call from Parks Division manager Val Pope.
During their conversation, Pope said he informed Fishler that the project plans were being reviewed by the city attorney's office and that construction could not begin until all issues are resolved.
"It is a free-speech issue," Pope said.
However, Fishler said he was told it was halted "because of the group we represent," meaning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Emigration Canyon Historic Monument is planned as a memorial to the Ute Indians, explorers, trappers and traders, as well as to the Donner/Reed party and Mormon pioneers. It is sponsored by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, an organization that represents descendants of early Utah pioneer settlers and others of any religion interested in Utah history.
Pope denies Fishler's claim, stating that it is "absolutely false. ... It had nothing to do with religion, race or creed," he emphasized, "It had to do with a basic question of what monument can be placed on public property."
Public property and free-speech issues have become a hot topic in Utah. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. The city is appealing a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the city in violation of freedom of speech by not allowing Summum to build the "Seven Aphorisms of Summum," a religious monument, next to a Ten Commandments monument.
If the Supreme Court upholds the 10th Circuit ruling, Pleasant Grove will have to allow the Summum monument to be built, or take down the current Ten Commandments monument.
On Friday, Rick Graham, the director of Salt Lake City Public Services, met with Robert Race and Fishler to discuss similar First Amendment concerns with the Emigration Canyon Monument's construction. According to Graham, the city decided to postpone decisions on construction of any monument on public property until after the Supreme Court has made a decision on the Summum case.
"We want to accommodate the SUP if we can," Graham said. "But in this time of transition and change, we're just putting it on hold. It wasn't a denial."
"Any city cannot contemplate such an issue when our nation's government is deciding whether to change the laws regarding it," Graham explained.
An organization wishing to build a monument on public property in the state will have to wait until after the state can review the Supreme Court's ruling, according to Graham. Any decisions made before that time could lead to a very temporary arrangement. If the city were to allow the Emigration Canyon Monument to be built, when the decision came from the Supreme Court, the monument might have to be removed.
The SUP has been active in building more than 250 monuments and other markers in Utah since the organization was established in 1933. These monuments not only commemorate the Mormon pioneers but all early settlers of the state.
"We aren't making any judgments or statements," Race said. The Sons of Utah Pioneers has no official ties with any religion. Fishler and Race call the monument an educational tool to teach students, residents and tourists of the importance of the canyon and those who lived there both before and after non-Indian settlers traversed it en route to the Salt Lake Valley.The co-project managers predict that if built, the monument will be viewed by at least 1.3 million visitors a year. The construction location is currently planned between Hogle Zoo, This Is the Place Heritage Park and other canyon parks.