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For week ended December 26, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

"> ACLU Opposes LDS Intervention in Street Suit
Salt Lake Tribune 21Dec99 N1
By Rebecca Walsh: Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The ACLU challenged the attempt by the LDS Church to enter its lawsuit against Salt Lake City over the sale of a one-block section of main street by the City to the LDS Church. The ACLU says that allowing the Church in the lawsuit will mix property rights issues into a lawsuit that is about basic constitutional rights.

"Salt Lake City will adequately defend or represent the interests of upholding the constitutionality of the restrictions," said the Utah ACLU's Stephen Clark. "The church doesn't add anything there." The ACLU's brief opposing the LDS Church's entrance in the lawsuit was filed late Friday.

The sale of the one-block long section of Main Street was sold by the City to the LDS Church last April for $8.1 million and 24-hour public access to the plaza the Church plans to build on the site. Church and city attorneys together drafted rules for the plaza that restrict what the public can do on the plaza, including picketing and protest.

The ACLU says these restrictions violate the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution because it restricts speech and assembly and due process, and violates the doctrine of separation of church and state. The lawsuit asks U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart to declare the restrictions unconstitutional.

The LDS Church asked to be added as a defendant in the lawsuit earlier this month. In opposing the Church's entry, the ACLU says that the Church "seeks to shift the focus from the constitutionality of the city's and the mayor's conduct to [the corporation's] rights as owner of the property."

Von Keetch, an attorney representing the LDS Church, says the Church's interest in the property is critical to the case. "The property claims are at the center of the case. The issue is: What can be done on this particular piece of property? Salt Lake City can't represent us any more than it could represent a personal property owner's interests when a challenge has been made about what could happen on its land."

Meanwhile, the City has given the court notice that it will pursue litigation of the matter, instead of mediation, while the ACLU, acting on behalf of First Unitarian Church, Utah's National Organization for Women and Utahns for Fairness, opted for mediation. First Unitarian pastor the Rev. Tom Goldsmith says he still would prefer to settle. "We're not seeking the impossible. We're not looking to undo anything and everything. We just want to make sure the public has access to Main Street, without one church acting as gatekeeper."

"Maybe I'm naive, but this seems so simple," Goldsmith said. "I can't understand why we can't sit down at a table and figure this out. To avoid the acrimony and ill will which is bound to happen as this escalates, it's worth a try."


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