summumRan across this fascinating piece today. Apparently a very small religious sect that calls itself “Summum” (a Latin word that means summit or culmination) wants to erect a monument to their Seven Aphorisms similar to a 10 commandments monument that is already in the same park. The group believes that these Seven Aphorisms are actually the original commandments received by Moses on Sinai and then smashed. The Mayor of the town wants nothing to do with the monument, citing constitutional infringement of the first amendment; allowing the monument to be put up would violate the disestablishment clause. Summum, however, argues that refusal violates the free exercise clause and that there’s already a 10 Commandments monument there anyhow.

This is fascinating on a number of levels. On the surface, it seems like the same fight over 10 commandments monuments on public/government property. But there’s another variable here, and it’s one that is very familiar to “fringe” religious sects, and that is whether or not the religion itself is viable. At least the 10 commandments are a known quantity. I suspect that there would be less resistance to an additional monument if it were inscribed with Buddhism’s 4 Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path or even Jesus’ Beatitudes. The problem is similar to that faced by Santeria practitioners who seek to buy property to hold sacrificial worship services but who are legally fought with because, being so unknown and misunderstood, they are potentially a menace to the common good, and the government has an obligation to protect its citizens from anything, religious or otherwise, that threaten them. Erecting a monumental icon to be placed next to the 10 commandments would seem to imply that the government recognizes Summum to be safe, well-known, and so on. Summum seems to brand itself as a mixture of Judaism, Gnosticism, and ancient Egyptian religion. No doubt it would have been right at home in the third and fourth centuries in Egypt, just before ancient Jewish-Egyptian influenced Gnosticism went underground after the orthodox imperialization of Christianity.

Prediction: unless Summum just says “never mind,” the park will lose its 10 commandments monument in this process.