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California Man Sues Over His Treatment at Plaza • Wednesday April 9, 2003

The Salt Lake Tribune, Apr. 5, 2003
By Heather May, The Salt Lake Tribune

California resident Kurt Van Gorden filed a lawsuit Friday against the LDS Church, Salt Lake City, Mayor Rocky Anderson, former Mayor Deedee Corradini and others based on his arrest for leafletting on the Main Street Plaza last April during the church’s general conference.

Van Gorden demanded in U.S. District Court that there be a jury trial. He believes he is entitled to $1 million.

Besides the arrest, Van Gorden complains he was prevented by LDS security guards from entering the plaza last September, even though he wasn’t passing out literature.

The Victorville man, who runs a Christian evangelical organization called Utah Gospel Mission, says the arrest and the confiscation of his leaflets by police violated his First Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise of religion and right to peaceably assemble; his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; and his Fifth Amendment right to be free from deprivation of liberty and property without due process.

The lawsuit also charges that the defendants — including police Chief Rick Dinse, police officers Mark Askerlund and David Askerlund, and church security guard Stephen Chapman — conspired to violate his civil rights by creating the plaza, allowing the church to restrict speech on the public easement and enforcing the restrictions. Noting that Van Gorden is a member of a “religious minority in Utah” where a majority of residents are Mormon, the conspiracy “was motivated by religious animus,” the lawsuit states.

The pastor also seeks injunctive relief to prevent the LDS Church, the city, Anderson and Dinse from preventing him from exercising his right to speech and religion.

That shouldn’t be a problem for now, since a federal appeals court ruled that the plaza is like a public sidewalk and open to free speech because the city retained an easement. Van Gorden was arrested in April, five months before the ruling was issued. The charges against him were dropped.

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