Free speech zones suspended in Brigham City

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 8:05 p.m. MDT

The Brigham City Utah Temple, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. City officials said they will not enforce their "Free speech" ordinance while a lawsuit is pending in federal court.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

BRIGHAM CITY — The question of free speech had been at the heart of a federal lawsuit that was initiated by an emergency motion, but visitors to the new Brigham City Utah Temple on Friday may not have known it.

As they took tours and pictures and were unloaded and reloaded from buses throughout the day, there was no one trying to proffer any pamphlets or newspapers. But when demonstrators started arriving in the early afternoon, they had more access to temple patrons than they'd had before.

Thursday evening, an agreement was reached between the Main Street Church of Brigham City, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and Brigham City officials after the city said it would not enforce the free speech ordinance that had limited demonstrators' access to certain areas around the temple.

"We're excited," Rick Sweet of Mormonism Research Ministry said. "Unfortunately, it's done about two days before the temple open house has concluded, but we're glad they backed down."

The Main Street Church and the ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court after protestors said they were prohibited from passing out fliers on public sidewalks that border The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' new temple in Brigham City.

The night before a hearing in which the ACLU planned to ask for a temporary restraining order against the city, the two parties reached an agreement.

Brigham City officials agreed to temporarily not enforce the free speech ordinance, as long as the Main Street Church limited its participation on each side of the temple to four protestors, addressing the city's public safety concerns.

ACLU attorney John Mejia said his organization was "thrilled" with the decision. But the Main Street Church did not take advantage of the space Friday morning and afternoon. Calls to Main Street Church officials for comment Friday were not returned.

Rick Jeppesen, a volunteer at the temple for the past five days, said he noticed those from the Main Street Church holding signs at other times. The protesters, Jeppesen said, hadn't caused any problems. 

"I think, overall, they've been really good," he said, adding he hadn't seen anyone Friday. "I haven't seen anything. Maybe they felt (the agreement) was the victory and they don't need to come."

Sweet said the pamphlets he carries explain the differences between biblical Christianity and Mormonism. He said his goal is to be kind, friendly and loving.

"If people want to take (the pamphlet), great," Sweet said. "If they don't, we say, 'Have a nice day.' We're just trying to get the message out and give people a chance to exercise their free agency."

City officials have said the free speech zones were created for public safety reasons. They further explained how they attempted to reconcile safety with the objective of those hoping to share their message.

"The city established three free speech zones on public sidewalks that were adjacent to the private property on which the LDS temple sits," according to a news release from the city. "Those free speech zones allowed protesters, demonstrators and pamphleteers to engage in protected activities in three locations on public property/sidewalks adjacent to the temple and gave then complete access to every corner around the temple."

Representatives of the Main Street Church, which describes itself as Bible-based and nondenominational, felt the restrictions implemented by the ordinance violated their rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly, Mejia said.

While the hearing was canceled in light of the agreement, Mejia said it doesn't mean an end to the lawsuit.

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