4th down and one inch – and Canyons School District punts


Summum Pyramid, photo taken by Summum

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Canyons School District has decided not to sell a one-acre parcel to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a seminary building. Instead, the school district has decided to keep the land for its own purposes.

An LDS Church seminary building located next to a public high school is a common sight in Utah. Utah law allows for “release time,” which permits LDS students (the vast majority of public school students in the state) to take one hour a day in their school schedule for religious instruction. This inclusion incentivizes LDS families to stay in the public school system despite negative and secular socialization. The compromise seems to work in that respect.

Now enter a new religion, Summum, a “Salt Lake City-based faith that practices meditation.” Summum has inquired into purchasing the school district land that was set aside for a “seminary.” (You can smell the ACLU all over this already, can’t you?)

A quandary for the Canyons School District? Either do what has already been done for decades or face a possible lawsuit from the Summum community (read: ACLU) (by the way, this isn’t the first time Summum has filed a suit like this one). The school district has decided, evidently, to punt – it won’t sell the land at all.

America has successfully created a delicate balance between majority rule and the rights of minorities. Reaching this balance has been a hard fight, and it is one of the charms of American democracy. But it is a balance.

In the case of the Canyons School District land sale, this balance tips in favor of the LDS Church. First, there is precedent, long-standing precedent. In addition, LDS families would be much less supportive ofUtah’s public schools were seminaries and “release time” not available. Second, there is no precedent for the Summum community to seek to exercise this same prerogative. And even without precedent the Summum community must demonstrate value – what value does it add to the public school community? Frankly, none.

[pullquote]This case is not about religious rights or the rights of minorities. It’s about social compromise and utility. It’s about conserving what works.[/pullquote]

This case is not about religious rights or the rights of minorities. It’s about social compromise and utility. It’s about conserving what works.

The Canyons School District is like a winning football team that has faced 4th down-and-inches situations many times before and in every situation has gained a first down, always. Now facing another routine call in the identical situation, it decides to punt. The decision not only reveals a lack of leadership and courage, it reveals a lack of wisdom.