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Duchesne plays tablet game

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With all the hoopla surrounding the status of the state's Ten Commandments monuments, Duchesne Mayor Clinton Park had a feeling that sooner or later his city's tablet would be at the center of the debate.

"We just thought it'd be fun to sit on it and wait and see if anyone found out about it," Park said of the 5-foot tall, 2 1/2-foot wide marble tablet in the city's Roy Park.

Well, the Society of Separationists did find out about it. And on Tuesday, the society filed a federal lawsuit demanding the monument be moved off government property.

But Park is one step ahead of them. Approximately two months ago, Park and Duchesne's five City Council members deeded the 10-foot-by-11-foot piece of land on which the monument stands to the Duchesne Lions Club.

That way, when learning the lawsuit had been filed late Tuesday, Park could honestly say, "The monument is no longer sitting on government property."

No money changed hands and no residents objected to the transaction, Park said.

"We've got places they can move it in town," he said, "but we just thought we'd like to be able to leave it where it is."

Attorney Brian Barnard, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Society of Separationists, gives Park credit for thinking ahead. However, he said, the move likely will fail in court.

"That kind of strategy has not worked in other jurisdictions where it has been done," Barnard said.

The problem, he said, is that the average citizen walking in the park will not know the piece of land belongs to the Lions Club. Thus, it appears the city is behind the display and that creates a separation-of-church-and-state issue.

Also, Barnard said, the city would not be likely to allow another organization to buy a similar plot of land inside the park for a display of its own.

Park acknowledged the strategy isn't fool-proof. He said he will wait and see the outcome of the court action.

"Hopefully we've done something that will keep us out of trouble," Park said. "We'll see what happens."

The newly discovered Duchesne monument is the 10th to be found in Utah. Civil libertarians originally thought only nine existed. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah asked the public to help it find the ninth tablet, which was eventually discovered in Brigham City.

Barnard appeared on a radio talk show to promote the scavenger hunt and several callers reported having seen a monument in Eastern Utah. The Society of Separationists found the latest tablet in the small town 30 miles west of Roosevelt.

After previous lawsuits or threats of litigation, only one other known monument, in Pleasant Grove, still sits on public property. And after unsuccessful out-of-court negotiations, Barnard said he likely will file a similar lawsuit against that Utah County city soon.

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com