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For week ended November 28, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001

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Mormons' property buy challenged

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Mormons' property buy challenged
USA Today, pg 3A 23Nov99 N1
By John Ritter: USA Today

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Several Mormon News subscribers notified us of this article about the ACLU's recently filed lawsuit against Salt Lake City over the sale of a one-block stretch of main street to the LDS Church for a pedestrian mall. The ACLU claims that the sale eliminates an important place for protest and free speech in the city.

While the article doesn't give any new information compared to articles already summarized on Mormon News, it does clearly state the issues in the dispute. While the LDS Church has not been named in the lawsuit, because it is a party to the sale it may be added in the future.

The terms of the sale allow the LDS Church to prohibit a variety of activities on the pedestrian mall it will build, including assembling, demonstrating and picketing. The ACLU claims that the area is an important public forum, and that the city can not limit the right to protest there constitutionally. [This is] "an important case in terms of whose city this is, whose voice is going to be heard and respected," says ACLU lawyer Stephen Clark. "Is it just a way to further entrench the dominant church and the most powerful corporation in the city?"

Salt Lake Community College professor John McCormick observes that the lawsuit represents the social tension that exists in the city, "At present, we're a contested city," he says. As the city has grown more diverse and less Mormon (its about 50% now, says the article), the tension has grown, "It's gotten harder and harder for the church to exercise its influence," says McCormick, who has writen a forthcoming book on social tension in Salt Lake called, "Salt Lake City: The Gathering Place."

But public support may be on the Church's side. Many non-Mormons support the Church's property-rights argument. "Probably the sale shouldn't have happened," says computer programmer George Walker. "However, it has happened, and I think the ACLU is out of bounds." Others were more worried about the traffic problems caused by shutting down the block.

And, of course, there are those that are concerned with the Church exercising political power in a city where it seems dominant, "I think there's no separation between church and state here," says Kristin Romeo, who recently moved to Salt Lake from Minneapolis with her husband. "This wouldn't happen anywhere else in the U.S."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information