A Salt Lake-based religious sect filed a civil rights suit Friday in U.S. District Court against Salt Lake County commissioners, demanding a spot on the 3rd District Courthouse lawn to erect a monolith bearing their religious philosophies.
Earlier this month, county commissioners rebuffed an offer by Summum - a religious organization with more than 20,000 members worldwide - to place a $4,000, 3-foot granite monument adjacent to the existing Ten Commandments at the courthouse.Summum's religious leaders and legal counsel call it a breach of their rights to express their religious beliefs. Summum is based on beliefs in advanced extraterrestrial beings and ancient Egyptian religious and meditation techniques, including mummification.
Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley said the commission denied the request by Summum because of possible construction near the proposed site for the monolith.
"The county is in the process of examining the property for development of a new jail or other facility," Bradley said. "The timing is inappropriate at this point. There will be no construction on the lawn until we find out what we are going to do."
Bradley added he "suspected they wouldn't be interested in this if the Ten Commandments weren't already there."
Corky Ra, Summum's founder and religious leader, who makes wine and teaches meditation techniques in hieroglyphic-emblazoned pyramids built in a west Salt Lake residential area, says his right to express religious views are being trampled by the county commissioners.
"The freedom to express religious beliefs is being violated," Ra said. "This is a religious disagreement. Our principles are the foundation of the Ten Commandments. A lot of people pass by the courthouse everyday. It is a place for enlightenment for everyone. The courthouse is where the law is - and this is a higher law."
The cult's legal counsel, Brian Barnard, a Salt Lake civil rights attorney, said Bradley's answer to Ra's request was "a pretext - a sham."
"Bradley's response was phony. The new court complex is at least two years away from being built," he said. "The right that is being violated is that the county cannot open up that lawn to the Ten Commandments and then pick and choose who else can take part and who can't."
Ra, who was then Corky Nowell, founded Summum in 1975 - a year after he was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ra, he said, means "worker on creation."
He said that while meditating in his home in 1975, he was visited by "beings not of this planet" who shared with him "treasures of knowledge" from which Summum was established.
Bradley hopes the suit will be dismissed.
"I hope we won't be wrapped up in a public expense for a silly suit like this," he said. "I'm don't think, in terms of practicality, that placing a monolith on the lawn right now is attainable. I'm also not sure if it has universal application."