SALT LAKE CITY — The American Civil Liberties Union has asked a judge for a temporary injunction preventing the LDS church from regulating behavior on a downtown block until a lawsuit is decided.
The restrictions followed a deal with the city that gave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints control of the landscaped plaza in exchange for two acres of church-ownedland and $388,000 in church funds.
The ACLU contends in its lawsuit that the deal unconstitutionally restricted free speech rights and effectively endorsed the church, a violation of the First Amendment.
The ACLU argued Friday that a decision on the merits of the case would take months, and that its plaintiffs are being deprived of the rights they won in the first Main Street Plaza case.
In that lawsuit, brought after the city sold a block of Main Street to the church in 1999 for the creation of a plaza, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the church-sought speech restrictions were unconstitutional.
The city subsequently eliminated its right of way through the plaza in exchange for four acres of land and $4 million to build a community center. The church agreed to the city’s request for public access to the block but demanded that the church be allowed to restrict smoking, sunbathing, bicycling and “vulgar” speech, dress or conduct on the plaza.
City and church leaders hoped the land swap would put an end to the controversy.
ACLU documents filed Friday say the church, which it called a “major political player in Utah, created a prime forum for protests when it turned one block of Main Street into a plaza.
“At no time is the dominance of the LDS Church over the heart of downtown Salt Lake City more blatant than during the Christmas season, when the LDS Church’s annual holiday lights display and Tabernacle Choir performances attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the downtown area,” said the Rev. Tom Goldsmith, First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, in the ACLU’s legal brief.
City attorneys last week asked U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball to dismiss the ACLU’s latest case.