Inside Summum: Free Speech and Mummies

Supreme Court case sheds light on little-known religion that makes mummies.

ByABC News
November 19, 2008, 3:55 PM

Nov. 20.2008— -- In that Greek temple of justice Americans call the Supreme Court, Summum, a religion founded 33 years ago and practiced by a handful of people, rose to national prominence last week, but its adherents worship in another classical structure -- a copper-plated pyramid off Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City.

The court heard oral arguments in a First Amendment case that asked whether Summum -- a religion that practices mummification, believes in psychokinesis and received its founding revelation from space aliens -- could erect a monument listing its Seven Aphorisms alongside the Ten Commandments in a Utah public park.

Those aphorisms include such principles as "moving things with your mind" and "everything vibrates."

At oral arguments last week, the justices tried to wade through the gray areas in some of the First Amendment's most important clauses. The Summum case is not about religious freedom per se but about free speech. Does the Pleasant Grove City Council, which controls the park, have to give every religion a monument that wants one? When the council denied Summum but allowed for the Ten Commandments, was the city violating the Establishment Clause that bans government endorsements of any one religion?

"We just hope wisdom will prevail and the justices will make the right decision," said Su Menu, Summum's president. "In the meantime, we're going to be meditating a lot."

Menu, whose full legal name is Summum Bonum Neffer Menu, has been a member of the sect since 1976, one year after the religion was founded by the late Summum Bonum Amon Ra (better known as Corky), a self-described "administrative manager for a large supply company in Salt Lake City" who says he was visited one day after work by extraterrestrials.

Summum gets its name from the Latin word meaning "the sum total of all creation" and according to Menu, a 58-year-old piano teacher who professionally goes by the name Sue Parsons, the religion has no overarching doctrine, or single supreme being.