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UUs fight for free speech in Salt Lake City

First Unitarian Church sues city a second time over sale of Main Street to LDS Church.
By Donald E. Skinner
November/December 2003 11.1.03

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Members of a Unitarian Universalise congregation have voted to sue Salt Lake City a second time. The vote in August is the latest move by the First Unitarian Church in a five-year attempt to preserve public access and free speech on a section of Main Street the city sold to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1999.

First Unitarian was the primary plaintiff in a 1999 lawsuit against the city for selling the property. (The LDS church replaced the city as plaintiff when it asked to defend itself.) The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in October that the speech and behavior restrictions by the LDS church were unconstitutional because the city retained an easement permitting public pedestrian access.

Earlier this year, because of Mormon pressure, the city decided to trade the easement to the church for property elsewhere. Without the easement the LDS church would be free to control all behavior on the section of street which it has turned into a pedestrian mall.

First Unitarian members voted to become a plaintiff in a suit, which the American Civil Liberties Union filed in federal court. The goal is to require the city to keep the easement and allow free speech on the plaza.

First Unitarian is getting a lot of attention for the Main Street battle, but its purpose is simply to protect the Bill of Rights, not harass Mormons, said the Rev. Tom Goldsmith. "There are barely enough Unitarians in the whole state to fill two Mormon wards. And yet we have become a household word, synonymous with either divisiveness or courage, depending not so much on your religion or politics, but on your view of how the Bill of Rights pertains to life in a city dominated by one religious culture."

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