Men arrested for passing out literature critical of Mormon Church in Salt Lake City

April 25, 2002
By Rick Ross

Two men were arrested by Salt Lake City Police for passing out religious literature on formerly public property now owned by the LDS this month. Salt Lake City sold the property to the church three years ago, and now the LDS prohibits any behavior they don't like and consider "offensive. The Mormon church released an official statement, which claimed the arrests were necessary to prevent protests.

An easement supposedly included in the sale of that public property supposedly allowed 24-hour public access. However, the Mormon Church was allowed to set rules for the entire block that restricted, "engaging in any illegal, offensive, indecent, obscene, lewd or disorderly speech, dress or conduct." Salt Lake City also gave the Mormon Church exclusive rights to distribute its literature, broadcast music and make speeches there. An American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Stephen Clark said, "Now we see the Baptists wind up in jail while the Mormons can pass out their literature." But City Attorney Roger Cutler defended the deal saying, "The deed made it clear it [the plaza] was not a First Amendment forum."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed, but is now before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. That lawsuit contends that restrictions imposed by the LDS are unconstitutional. "This is exactly the kind of entanglement we've been concerned about from the beginning," said ACLU attorney Stephen Clark.

The two men arrested were Kurt Van Gorden, 48, a Baptist minister from California and Salt Lake City resident Melvin Heath, 46. They were handing out literature critical of the LDS during a Mormon semiannual conference. "We made sure we were walking where the old sidewalk. We said we thought the public has an easement through this property, and we are well within our rights on the easement," said Heath, who was later released on his own recognizance. Van Gorden posted bail.

Notes: This article was largely based upon "Baptists Arrested On Plaza" Salt Lake Tribune, April 9, 2002, By Elizabeth Neff

Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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