Mormons to take speech dispute to Supreme Court

Associated Press/November 15, 2002
By Patty Henetz

Salt Lake City -- The Mormon Church has suffered a setback in its fight to restrict speech on sidewalks running through its downtown plaza, but vowed to take the dispute to the Supreme Court.

A federal appeals court that had prohibited the church from banning protests and other forms of free speech on the sidewalks rejected the church's request for a new hearing on Thursday, but the church said it won't give up.

"The way is now clear for the Church to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the matter," the church said in a statement issued immediately after Thursday's decision.

The city sold the land for the plaza - once a part of Main Street - to the church, but retained easement rights to ensure pedestrian access.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled last month that because sidewalks are a traditional public forum, the city should protect free-speech rights there.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City sued after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints imposed rules restricting protests, demonstrations and other activities on the one-block plaza.

A lower-court judge agreed with the Mormon church and the city that the limits were constitutional. But the appeals court overturned that decision.

After buying the block of Main Street for $8.1 million, the Mormon church turned it into a plaza with fountains, reflecting pools, plants and statues.

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