Associated Press, June 23, 2003
By ROBERT GEHRKE, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear arguments on whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be allowed to limit speech it deems offensive in a park it purchased from Salt Lake City.
The court’s decision lets stand an October ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said free-speech rights along the plaza sidewalks must be retained because the church had guaranteed the city pedestrian access through the park.
The plaza dispute began in April 1999, when the Mormon church paid the city $8.1 million for one block of Main Street adjacent to the church’s temple.
The church agreed to the city’s demands of public access to the block, but demanded that they be allowed to restrict smoking, sunbathing, bicycling, obscene or vulgar speech, dress or conduct on the plaza.
The Utah branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sued, arguing the restrictions were unconstitutional.
A federal judge sided with the church, but the appeals court overturned that decision in October, ruling the city couldn’t create a “First Amendment-free zone.”
The Supreme Court announced its decision Monday without comment.
The dispute widened a chasm between the city’s dominant Mormon population, and non-Mormons who complain of being forced to live by the church’s precepts.
After first saying he’d abide by the appeals court ruling, Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson — who’s running for re-election this fall — proposed giving up city control of the easement through the park. In exchange, the church would give the city two acres of land in Glendale, a neighborhood west of downtown, for a community center.
Earlier this month, the all-Mormon city council voted 6-0 with one abstention to approve the deal.
“The court denied our application for them to take the case. Obviously, that’s disappointing. But it’s also not too surprising,” church attorney Von Keetch said Monday. “The court takes so few cases, getting on the docket is difficult.”