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City OKs Deal to Let Mormons Control Plaza

June 14, 2003|From Times Wire Reports

SALT LAKE CITY — The City Council has approved a plan to give up an easement through a downtown plaza owned by the Mormon Church in a bid to settle a dispute over free-speech rights.

The plan would give the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the ability to control access and behavior on the downtown block of Main Street.

In return, the city would get land now owned by the church in a low-income area and use it for a community center.

Dispute over the plaza began in 1999, when city and church officials announced the sale of one block of Main adjacent to Temple Square to the church for $8.1 million.

The deal included a public easement allowing people to pass through the plaza. Under the terms of the deal, the church could prohibit smoking, sunbathing, bicycling and obscene or vulgar speech, dress or conduct on the plaza. In addition, the church was entitled to ban preaching or proselytizing.

The American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged that deal in court, arguing that as long as the easement existed, the city had to uphold the free-speech rights of the public.

By selling the easement back to the church, Salt Lake City officials hope to end the case, which is pending before the Supreme Court. Mayor Rocky Anderson said it was possible the sale could prompt the ACLU to file a new lawsuit.

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