Mormon Speech Curb Rejected

Appeals court says church can't make Salt Lake City sidewalk a '1st Amendment-free zone.'

Associated Press/October 10, 2002

Salt Lake City -- The Mormon church cannot restrict free speech on the sidewalks that run through its plaza on the city's Main Street, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled Wednesday.

The court held that the sidewalks are a traditional public forum and restrictions on free speech on those sidewalks are unconstitutional. The sidewalks that used to line the former block of Main Street are open to pedestrians but not to free speech.

"The city cannot create a ' 1st Amendment-free zone.' Their attempt to do so must fail," the court ruled.

The dispute arose after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints imposed rules restricting protests, demonstrations and other activities on the one-block stretch of Main Street in Salt Lake City it bought from the city.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued, arguing that the restrictions were unconstitutional because the city retains an easement across the block to ensure pedestrian access.

The ACLU's lawsuit was earlier dismissed in U.S. District Court.

The appellate court ruling overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart that the collection of fountains, reflecting pools, plants and statues in downtown Salt Lake City had turned a public sidewalk into a private religious garden, exempt from 1st Amendment protection.

The list of rules was written by city and church attorneys and approved by the City Council in April 1999.

The city argued that it had cleared itself of any obligation because the restrictions were set out when it got the easement.

The Mormon church had no immediate comment on the ruling and their lawyers were reading through the decision Wednesday afternoon, said spokesman Dale Bills.

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