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Religious Tolerance logo

 The Ten Commandments

The Seven Aphorisms by
Summum, a UFO religious group

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Read about events from other years

About Summum:

Summum is a religious group in Ogden, UT with headquarters in Salt Lake City. They were founded in 1975 and currently claim a membership of 250,000. One of their beliefs is that Yahwehd did not initially give Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai as stated in Exodus 20. Instead, Moses received the "Seven Aphorisms" containing:

"... aphorisms of a Higher Law that held very profound and deep meanings. During his life, Moses had been initiated into an understanding of the inner, esoteric source of these aphorisms -- aphorisms that outlined principles underlying Creation and all of nature." 1

Moses then returned to the base of the mountain and saw how the ancient Hebrews had reverted to Pagan beliefs and practices. He realized that his people could not understand the Seven Aphorisms. He destroyed the tablets, returned up the mountain, and obtained a second set of tablets from God. These contained the Ten Commandments, and represents a "lower law."  Even today, the group believes that relatively few people are able to handle the higher law.

The Seven Aphorisms each refer to a separate principle:

  1. Psychokinesis: "SUMMUM is MIND, thought; the universe is a mental creation."
  2. Correspondence: "As above, so below; as below, so above."
  3. Vibration: "Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates."
  4. Opposition: ""Everything is dual; everything has an opposing point; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes bond; all truths are but partial truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled."
  5. Rhythm: "Everything flows out and in; everything has its season; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing expresses itself in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates."
  6. Cause and Effect: "Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is just a name for Law not recognized; there are many fields of causation, but nothing escapes the Law of Destiny."
  7. Gender: "Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principles; Gender manifests on all levels."

Conflicts with various county and city governments.

Various court decisions have established the principle that a municipal government or state agency of federal government cannot promote a single religious faith by erecting an isolated monument containing the Ten Commandments, or a manger scene at Christmas, etc. However, they are allowed to create a cultural display that contains elements from a variety of religions and secular symbols. Thus evolved the "Three Reindeer rule:" As long as there are sufficient secular symbols such as a snowperson, reindeer, Santa along with a symbols from a variety of religions like a manger scene and menorah, then the display would qualify as a cultural display and be constitutional.

Still, governments at all levels have tried to resist the principle of separation of church and state by projecting an exclusively Christian image. They often receive considerable support from religious and social conservatives.

Summum was involved in a number of lawsuits:

bulletThey asked the municipality of Salt Lake County for permission to install a monument containing the Principles of Summum adjacent to the existing Ten Commandments. They were immediately denied permission. Summum believed that by erecting a copy of the Ten Commandments the county had created a public forum. Thus other forms of speech should be allowed.

In 1997, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Summum, ruling:

"We conclude that Summum's amended complaint sufficiently alleges that a limited public forum has been created and that the County engaged in viewpoint discrimination in violation of Summum's free speech rights."

Rather than allowing the Seven Aphormisms to be displayed, the County removed their Ten Commandments monument.

bulletSummum later approached the City of Ogden with the same request and was again denied. The same court concluded in 2002:

"The City (somewhat ironically in light of the City's simultaneous insistence that the display of the Ten Commandments Monument alone does not violate the Establishment Clause) notes that the presence of the Seven principles Monument on the Municipal Grounds, coupled with the fact that Summum would be the only church to have contributed a monument to the relevant forum, would leave an observer to conclude that the City of Ogden endorses Summum. Again, we must disagree; we are persuaded that a reasonable observer would, instead, note the fact that the lawn of the municipal building constituted a diverse array of monuments, some from a secular and some from a sectarian perspective....The Free Speech clause of the First Amendment compels the City of Ogden to treat with equal dignity speech from divergent religious perspectives. On these facts, the City cannot display the Ten Commandments Monument while declining to display the Seven Principles Monument." 3

The Deseret News reported that there is a possibility that the city would remove the Ten Commandments monument rather than give equal space for the Summum Aphorisms. Again, faced with the alternatives of recognizing diverse religious beliefs, or having no monument of the Ten Commandments, the City chose to remove its Ten Commandments display.

bulletSummum next approached the City of Duchesne with the same request and were refused. This time, the city tried a more creative solution. They carved out a 100 square foot piece of land in the middle of the city park and erected a plastic picket fence on the land enclosing their Ten Commandments monument. They then converted the land to private property so that they continue their religious discrimination.
bulletSummum leaders finally approached the city officials of Pleasant Grove City, UT to add a granite monument listing their "Seven Aphorisms" to an existing municipal cultural display of religious and secular objects. The display currently has two Jewish Stars of David, the Greek Letters Chi and Ro (the first two letters of "Christ"), the Ten Commandments, a (presumably Masonic) all seeing eye and pyramid, an eagle, and an American flag. Again, the city refused permission. Their decision is supported by two fundamentalist Christian legal defense groups: The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Thomas More Law Center.

The city maintained that it was not interfering with Summum's free speech; they simply only accept display donations if it directly relates to the city's history or if the donor has longstanding ties to the community.

Summum launched a lawsuit which it lost at a federal district court. Summum successfully appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of judges said that Summum, has as much right to erect a monument in the park as the Fraternal Order of Eagles did in the 1960s, when it donated the Ten Commandments monument. City officials then appealed to the full court for a hearing. The judges were deadlocked, which allowed the panel's decision to stand.

The city appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Their main concern is that if they let the Summum group place their monument among the collection, they would be inundated by other groups with similar requests. Attorneys for the city wrote in their brief:

"Effectively, a city cannot accept a monument posthumously honoring a war hero without also being prepared to accept a monument that lampoons that same hero. Nor may a city accept a display that positively portrays Native American culture unless it is prepared to accept another that disparages that culture."

They also noted that they had never designated the park for the private display of any and all permanent monuments. Thus they don't have to display  Summum's Aphorisms. There would be no problem with members of Summum personally distributing sheets of paper containing their Aphorisms; that is clearly pprotected speech under the U.S. Constitution. But the city regards permanent monuments as a very different matter.

Such are the problems associated with freedom of speech.

Attorneys for Summum asked that the Supreme Court not take up the case. They wrote:

"Because the narrow and fact-specific decision [by the 10th Circuit] turns on the city's own treatment of the Ten Commandments monument as private speech, it does not implicate, and would not give this court a chance to address, any broader issues concerning the line between government and private speech under the free-speech clause. Likewise, because the [lower] court held only that the government may not discriminate among private speakers in a traditional public forum, the decision does not raise any broader issues."

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of ACLJ -- a fundamentalist Christian legal society -- said:

"The Supreme Court is faced with a dramatic opportunity: preserve sound precedent involving the well-established distinction between government speech and private speech -- or permit a twisted interpretation of the Constitution to create havoc in cities and localities across America."

Brian Barnard of the Utah Legal Clinic represents Summum. He commented:

"Summum says, 'Our Seven Aphorisms are comparable and complimentary to the Ten Commandments, so please let us put ours up. It's a matter of simple fairness."

According to the Pew Forum, Summum further claims:

"... that even under Pleasant Grove?s own standards, the Pioneer Park displays constitute private speech. Indeed, Summum points out, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, not the city, inscribed the Ten Commandments on the monument. Summum also presents an additional argument for the displays being private speech, namely that Pleasant Grove never officially announced that the city had adopted and endorsed the message of the Ten Commandments monument."

"Summum also challenges Pleasant Grove?s claim that the city did not create a public forum for private, unattended, permanent monuments. Rather, Summum argues that by opening the park for displays, the city opened the park itself ? not the city?s selection process ? for private donations of all types of speech, including unattended, permanent monuments." 6

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear case:

On 2008-MAR-31, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Pleasant Grove City v. Summum case, #07-665. They heard the oral arguments on 2008-NOV-12.

U.S. Supreme Court delivers ruling:

The Court unanimously ruled on 2009-FEB-25 that the city of Pleasant Grove, UT could choose to deny permission for the public display of one religious monument even while allowing "at least 11 permanent, privately donated displays, including a Ten Commandments monument" -- to be installed.

The ruling was based on the principle that:

"The placement of a permanent monument in a public park is a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause ..." of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 7 That clause restricts government regulation of private speech but not government regulation of its own speech.

Response by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU):

AU issued a statement saying that "the court made the right decision but urged that all permanent religious symbols be removed from government-owned parks." The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, wrote:

"Government has no business erecting, maintaining or promoting religious symbols or codes. The answer in this case is to remove the Ten Commandments from the public park, not compound the problem by adding more sectarian material. ... No one expects that a community would be required to erect every symbol it is given. The question lurking below the surface is why government should have the right to display religious symbols and signs at all." 8


  1. "The Aphorisms of Summum and the Ten Commandments," Sumum, at: http://www.summum.us/
  2. "Seven Summum Principles," at: http://www.summum.us/
  3. "Circuit court rules for 'Aphorisms' as squabbles over religious sloganeering, commandments continue," AANews, 2002-AUG-1.
  4. Pete Yost, "Court Agrees to Take 2 Free Speech Cases," Associated Press, 2006-MAR-31, at: http://www.newsday.com/
  5. Robert Marus, "," Church Executive News, 2008-APR-01, at: http://www.churchexecutive.com/
  6. "In Brief: Pleasant Grove City v. Summum," The Pew Forum, 2008-OCT-31, at: http://pewforum.org/
  7. "Pleasant Grove City, Utah et al. v Summum," U.S. Supreme Court, 2009-FEB-25, at: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/
  8. "Supreme Court Ruling In Utah Religious Symbols Case Unlikely To Be Final Word, Says Americans United," Americans United, 2009-FEB-25, at: http://www.au.org/

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Copyright © 2008 & 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-APR-02
Latest update: 2009-FEB-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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