Commandments case: Summum church wins small

Salt Lake City, USA - In a court battle over DuÂchesne's refusal to allow the Summum church to display its religious principles alongside a Ten Commandments monument, the church won 100 percent of its requested monetary damages - a nominal $20.

As the prevailing party, the Salt Lake City-based faith was eligible to be awarded its attorney fees. But the victory has turned hollow as far as dollars and cents are concerned - U.S. District Judge Dee Benson has set payment at 1 percent of the legal tab.

That decision reduces the $69,440 bill submitted by civil rights attorney Brian Barnard to $694.40.

In an order handed down last week, Benson said Summum had shown only a "technical violation" of the First Amendment by Duchesne. In addition, the judge said the religious group failed to accomplish a "significant furthering" of free expression rights or halt egregious violations.

Barnard plans to ask the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to review the fee award.

"There is no such thing as a technical violation of the First Amendment," he said Wednesday. "The violation of the First Amendment which the court determined occurred in this case is substantial and important. Such a puny award encourages government actors to disregard constitutional rights with impunity."

Summum filed suit in 2003 after Duchesne refused to allow the church to put up a monument listing its Seven Aphorisms in Roy Park, where a Ten Commandments monolith had stood for years. In response, the city converted the parcel holding the monolith into private property and enclosed the display with a fence.

Benson ruled last year that making the parcel private had clearly disassociated the city from sponsorship of religious expression and meant Roy Park no longer was a public forum. Although he rejected Summum's bid to erect its own monument, the judge granted the $20 in requested damages because the Ten Commandments was on public property when Duchesne initially refused the church's request.

"If you ask for nominal damages and you're awarded nominal damages, I think you're 100 percent successful," Barnard said.

Summum, founded in 1975, is based on Egyptian customs and includes wine making and mummifications.