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Lawsuit jitters spurred change

PROVO — A Ten Commandments monument now rests on private property on Provo's most visible street corner.

For that, folks here can thank a religious group that believes in mummification and aliens from outer space.

Since 1994, the religious group Summum has been on a mission to have Ten Commandments monuments removed from public property in Utah.

They have succeeded in Salt Lake County and Ogden through litigation, which has prompted other cities to move similar displays from public property to private parks.

"I'm not against the Ten Commandments. Summum is not against the Ten Commandments. What we're in favor of is not having government involvement in religion," said Brian Barnard, a First Amendment attorney who represents Summum. "A Ten Commandments monument should not be on government property because it implies endorsement."

Barnard had not threatened Provo with a lawsuit, but Provo Mayor Lewis Billings decided to move the monument before it became an issue.

The monolith, which had rested for nearly 30 years at Memorial Park on 800 E. Center St., now stands on the northeast corner of Center Street and University Avenue on Tabernacle Park land owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We want to show as a community we're very supportive of the Ten Commandments, but we were aware other cities had failed in their efforts to keep these monuments on public property," said Provo spokesman Mike Mower.

"We're pleased the Ten Commandments are now on the most prominent corner in Provo."

Summum's quest to separate church and state began in 1994 when the group sued Salt Lake County over a Ten Commandments monument sitting on the 3rd District Courthouse lawn.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1997 that in order to keep the monument in place, the county would have to allow Summum to erect a monument of its own.

That monument would have displayed Summum's "Seven Aphorisms," which include the belief that "Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates." Summum is based on ancient Egyptian beliefs and was founded in Utah in 1975.

The county removed its monument, and in 1999, Summum filed a similar lawsuit against Ogden. Last July, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals again ruled in Summum's favor, and Ogden officials paid Barnard $40,000 in court fees as part of the settlement.

Barnard then sent a letter to three other cities with similar monuments — Roy, Murray and Tooele — to warn them they could be next.

Barnard says it doesn't bother him that monuments in Provo and Tooele are now in more visible spots thanks to his work. He says he is merely trying to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

"I guess you could say part of loving your neighbor is working to avoid unnecessary lawsuits," Mower said.


E-MAIL: jhyde@desnews.com