Summarized by Kent Larsen
LDS Church Can Join Main Street Lawsuit
Salt Lake Tribune 26Jan00 N1
By Rebecca Walsh: Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart decided to allow
the LDS Church to intervene in the ACLU's lawsuit against Salt Lake City
challenging the sale of a block of Main Street to the LDS Church. After
the ACLU wrote a letter to the judge dropping its opposition, Judge
Stewart decided to let the Church participate.
ACLU attorney Stephen Clark tried to stop the LDS Church from joining
the lawsuit because he felt the City could adequately represent the
Church's interests and handle the constitutional challenge. However,
Clark changed his mind when City Attorney Roger Cutler said he welcomed
the LDS Church's participation in the suit.
The April 1999 sale of the one-block portion of the street required that
the LDS Church maintain 24-hour access to the area, but the Church
sought and obtained an agreement limiting behavior in the area,
including no smoking, offensive speech or indecent dress. The ACLU of
Utah, representing local organizations that say they use the area for
protests, challenged the rules because they wouldn't allow picketing or
marching on the block.
The ACLU says that the City can't sell a public forum: a place where
citizens can exercise free speech and expression. The rules restricting
protest therefore violate the U.S. constitution, says the ACLU, which
asked the Judge to declare the rules null and void.
This led the LDS Church to ask to join the lawsuit, "No one can
seriously contest that such demands, if granted, would gravely and
directly impact the property rights currently held by the church," wrote
LDS Church attorney Von Keetch, in his brief asking to join the suit.
"If plaintiffs are successful in their action, the church's property
will suffer a stark transformation -- from a piece of property set aside
for quiet enjoyment and meditation to a full-blown traditional public
forum with often strident demonstrations, picketing and other public
gatherings. It would be the church that would see a decrease in the
value of its property. It would be the church which will be forced to
provide groups like the National Organization for Women, Utahns for
Fairness and the First Unitarian Church a place to express their
anti-LDS viewpoints and criticisms, all the while with the LDS Church
paying for the security, upkeep, lighting, insurance, landscaping,
liability and other costs associated with this alleged 'public forum.' "
The ACLU's Clark worried that these property claims would 'bog down' the
case, and keep the court from addressing the constitutional questions.
But Salt Lake City's Cutler wasn't comfortable representing the LDS