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‘Aphorisms’ in Pl. Grove?

City told it can avoid lawsuit by approving display

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PLEASANT GROVE — Pleasant Grove could avoid pending litigation by allowing a Utah-based religious group to erect a monument near the city's Ten Commandments display, says an attorney who has threatened the city with court action.

The group, Summum, wants to display its "Seven Aphorisms" — religious principles that guide Summum's followers — in a Pleasant Grove park where a Ten Commandments monument has sat for more than 30 years.

"We would like to erect a monument similar in size and nature in that same city park," said Summum President Ammon Ra in a letter to Pleasant Grove Mayor Jim Danklef. "Displaying our aphorisms along with the Ten Commandments would serve the public good and make the world a better place."

Danklef said the city is still pondering whether it will challenge demands to remove the monument, but allowing Summum to build a monument will not be part of the decision. Summum officials had asked that the city respond to its request by yesterday.

"We haven't answered them yet, but I don't think we'll do that (let them build a monument)," Danklef said. "We haven't discussed it as a council. We think we've got some things going for us."

The religious group, founded in 1975, has sought to build monuments denoting their Egyptian-based beliefs in other Utah cities where Ten Commandments monuments have figured into church-state separation litigation, including Salt Lake City and Ogden.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in 1997 in the Salt Lake case that the Ten Commandments monument could stay on public property surrounding the City-County building if Summum was allowed to erect its own monument. Salt Lake officials instead moved the monument to private land.

The group later filed suit against Ogden after city officials rejected a request to allow a "Seven Aphorisms" monument in a garden that also displayed the Ten Commandments. Ogden also chose to move its Ten Commandments monument onto private property.

Summum's attorney, Brian Barnard — who has sent two letters to Pleasant Grove officials threatening court action — said he believes the religious group's request fits into the concept the city attorney has suggested as a defense for keeping the monument. City attorney Christine Petersen said last week that because the Ten Commandments monument is in a park with other memorials and displays honoring the city's heritage, the city believes a court challenge could be defeated. Barnard said adding Summum's monument would broaden the park's reach.

"A dispute over something like this does not do any good for the city or for the people of the city," Barnard said.

Pleasant Grove received its Ten Commandments monument in 1971 from the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Terry Carlson, a former president of the Pleasant Grove Eagles chapter, said Barnard is making an issue of something that really isn't such a big deal.

"All he's doing is getting a whole bunch of free publicity," Carlson said. "He has nothing that he's expecting to gain out of this, other than to have it moved."

Salt Lake City attorney Frank Mylar said he is willing to help to keep the monument at its current location, an inconspicuous city park at 100 N. 100 East. Mylar is enlisting the help of Francis Manion, senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice. Manion is considered an expert in the defense of public displays of Ten Commandments monuments.

Carlson believes that even if the city enlists the help of national public interest law firms, the whole tiff is a big waste of time.

"I think he (Barnard) ought to find something better to do than go around looking for monoliths that aren't hurting anybody or anything," he said. "If he wants to complain or protest about something, tell him to protest about something that is worthwhile. This (the Ten Commandments monument) isn't hurting anybody. All it can do is good."

E-MAIL: ldethman@desnews.com