Seeing little difference between people handing out leaflets and people holding protest signs, a federal judge on Monday ordered the state to allow two animal rights protesters to stand outside the doors to the Utah House of Representatives and exercise their First Amendment rights.

After an emergency hearing on Monday, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell granted a temporary restraining order, ordering that two members of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition be allowed to hold 2-foot by 3-foot signs in protest on the third floor of the Utah State Capitol.

According to a suit filed in U.S. District Court last Friday, the coalition states two members were removed from the Capitol's third floor for holding a "spontaneous protest" in which they held signs regarding animal rights issues. The coalition has been pushing for tighter animal cruelty penalties.

The suit states last Wednesday, the two members of the coalition were standing outside the doors to the House of Representatives when they were approached by two Utah Highway Patrol troopers, who provide security for the Capitol.

The two troopers ordered the protesters to cease their demonstration and threatened them with citation, arrest or banishing them from ever returning to the Capitol. They were told by both troopers and representatives of the Capitol Preservation Board that they needed a permit to protest, according to the suit.

UARC locked legal horns with the Legislature two years ago when it sued over the right to hand out leaflets at the capitol. That 2006 suit prompted the Capitol Preservation Board to revamp its rules and allow leafletting, however holding signs were still against the rules.

Campbell's order is only temporary until the state has a chance to reply to the latest suit.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Bates said Campell's order is temporary and will be in effect only until the end of this legislative session.

Bates said he is disappointed in the coalition's actions, adding that members never formally brought their concerns to the Capitol Capital Preservation Board, but rather chose the "nuclear" option of filing a lawsuit.

E-mail: [email protected]