Fearing that increasingly provocative anti-Mormon protests will incite violence among some Mormons attending the LDS Church’s worldwide conference next month, Salt Lake City police say they want to protect protesters by limiting their physical contact with conferencegoers.
As the LDS Church had earlier requested, the city will create buffer zones during the April 3 and 4 conference in downtown Salt Lake City.
Protesters still will be allowed to spread their message by walking with church members on public streets and sidewalks as people enter and exit the Conference Center, said City Attorney Ed Rutan.
But those who want to stand still and speak or hold signs must remain in nearby designated areas. Rutan didn’t say Tuesday where the areas will be located. Details will be released before the conference.
Without the restrictions, police Chief Rick Dinse fears protesters could be harmed. In October 2003, some protesters demonstrated with LDS garments, which Mormons consider sacred. Two Mormon men were offended and then arrested after they tried to take the garments.
Dinse assumes street preachers will demonstrate with garments again in April. He also has heard that 300 people will show up to protest the protesters.
“Our job here is to provide protection of the protesters and the conferees from themselves, if you will,” said Dinse, who noted that there will be more officers on patrol this year.
Street preachers have bristled at the suggestions of buffer zones.
But Mayor Rocky Anderson, a former civil rights attorney, said they won’t impede the protesters’ free speech rights. “They will be in a place where they can reach their intended audience,” Anderson said.
Church attorneys had requested the buffer zones, along with other restrictions, in December as the city started to review its free speech ordinances in the wake of the October incidents.
Last month, Rutan said the extra measures weren’t necessary. “If the speakers have been in full compliance with the law, then you’re not really in the position where you can justify any significant restrictions on the exercise of their speech,” he said.
Rutan said Tuesday that police, who had met with church security staff, convinced him that buffer zones were “appropriate.”
The buffer zones weren’t included in a revised speech ordinance suggested by Anderson and approved by the City Council Tuesday night. The changes to the ordinance were minor.
The city clarified that symbolic speech can be considered “fighting words,” which are unconstitutional. Fighting words are personal insults likely to incite violence.
Still, Anderson said the clarification won’t prevent protesters from using garments.
“No matter how offended someone is at the desecration of temple garments, that would not constitute fighting words under present constitutional analysis,” he said.