High Court to Decide if Town Must Allow New Age Monument

By Pete Winn | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court will decide next term whether a Utah city must allow a New Age religion that promotes pyramids, mummification, and sexual ecstasy to erect a monument to its beliefs on public property.

Justices agreed this week to hear a case about a Salt Lake City-based religion called Summum and whether the First Amendment allows the religion to memorialize its beliefs on a monument in a public park in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Last year, the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a lower court decision forcing the city to let Summum place a monument to its "Seven Aphorisms" alongside a monument to the Ten Commandments, which had been donated to Pleasant Grove by the local Eagles Club in the 1950s.

Salt Lake City attorney Brian Barnard, who represents Summum, is expecting the high court to uphold the 10th Circuit Court decision.

"It's a matter of simple fairness," Barnard told Cybercast News Service. "If you allow one group to do it, you've got to allow every group to do it."

Barnard said his clients aren't asking for the Ten Commandments display to be taken down. To the contrary, they simply want to be able to display their own beliefs.

"The city of Pleasant Grove has allowed the Eagles to display their beliefs in the Ten Commandments for the last 40 years," he said. "And my client simply approached the city and said, 'We believe our Seven Aphorisms are comparable and complementary to the Ten Commandments. Would you please allow us to display them?'"

But Pleasant Grove, which said "no" to the display - and which has suggested it will remove the Ten Commandments statue if it has to - welcomes its day before the high court.

"We're delighted that the Supreme Court agreed to take this critical case," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative group, which is representing Pleasant Grove.

Sekulow told Cybercast News Service that this case doesn't have anything to do with the Supreme Court's 2005 decisions on the Ten Commandments. There, justices held that officials could allow religious displays on public property as long as the overall message presented was neutral toward religion and secular.

"This is not about the Establishment Clause. They have already lost on that," Sekulow said. "The issue is the freedom of speech - only, it's really about the government's freedom to speak."

The city will argue that "mayhem" would result if every city, county, or state is forced to allow "alternatives" to be set up alongside government-sponsored monuments.

"That's like saying, if you have a Veterans of Foreign Wars monument in a city park, you should have to allow an anti-war group's monument to go up, too," Sekulow said.

"Or how about an atheist group's monument to free thought? The ramifications of this are huge," he said.

Sekulow argues that, if Summum is successful, cities with memorials to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., should expect racist groups to use the decision as legal precedent to have racist memorials erected.

A controversial 'belief system'

Summum is a controversial belief system and, according to the IRS, a religion that is virtually unknown outside of Salt Lake City and certain Internet circles.

According to the group's Web site, Summum is based on Gnostic Christianity and Egyptian practices. It promotes a modern form of mummification as a funeral rite and promotes "sexual ecstasy" as a way of knowledge.

Summum was founded in 1975 by a former Mormon named Claude "Corky" Rex Nowell. A former supply company employee, Nowell said he received a series of "visits" from "highly intelligent beings" - or "Summa Individuals" - who gave him "higher knowledge."

Nowell legally changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra, though he is usually referred to as "Corky Ra" (a reference to the ancient Egyptian sun god, Ra).

Adherents meet and meditate in a pyramid-shaped temple in Salt Lake City and use a wine-like beverage they call "nectar," which they manufacture. The group also has what it calls a "Divine Logo," which is a pentagram within a pentagon within a circle.

The Seven Aphorisms that Summum adherents want to memorialize are: "psychokinesis" (the idea that the mind is the universe), "correspondence," "vibration," "opposition," "rhythm," "cause and effect" and "gender."

A spokesman for Summum, a 501[c] 3 nonprofit, declined to comment for this story.

Barnard, meanwhile, told Cybercast News Service that his clients are entitled to their beliefs.

Justices will hear oral arguments this fall.

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