LDS protesters out in force

Evangelical street preachers managed to skirt Salt Lake City’s new speech regulations Saturday, sermonizing and taunting LDS Church conferencegoers from just outside reserved protest zones.

Some shouted insults and waved women’s religious garments — a stunt that ended in violence in October when two enraged conference attendees attacked preachers for desecrating the garments considered sacred by Mormons.

But police, who on Saturday outnumbered demonstrators by at least two to one, turned the other cheek.

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“The protesters chose to stand in a sort of no-man’s land . . ., and we don’t have a problem with that,” said Lt. Mark Askerlund of the Salt Lake City Police Department, who characterized Saturday’s demonstrations as “generally peaceful.”

In the reserved zones, which the city devised to prevent a repeat of October’s arrests, the street preachers can stand still and speak on certain areas of the sidewalks along North Temple. In other areas, the preachers can walk alongside conferencegoers, but not stand.

Askerlund acknowledged that the presence of 50 uniformed and plainclothes police officers equipped with surveillance cameras in case “things got out of hand” probably helped keep tempers in check on Saturday.

“It certainly made for a more orderly flow of foot traffic” to and from the 22,000-seat Conference Center, he said.

It could also be that members of the World Wide Street Preachers’ Fellowship, which last week unsuccessfully petitioned two federal courts for an injunction barring the city from enforcing the speech zones, didn’t want to jeopardize their chances of prevailing in court.

But Ron McRae, head of the fellowship, vows the legal battle isn’t over.

“This case is bigger than free speech. It encompasses the First Amendment, including our constitutional right to exercise our religious beliefs,” McRae said. “We’re not here to speak. We’re here to preach. We are commanded by God to preach the gospel.”

There was no shortage of demonstrators eager to take advantage of the attention.

Mike VanWagenen, 36, turned the spotlight back on street preachers, championing his “Save Howard Stern” cause.

The evangelical far right has promoted censorship by pushing for new Federal Communication Commission rules that would “seriously limit” what shock jocks like Stern can say on the radio, said VanWagenen, who shouted, “Freedom for street preachers, but not for Howard Stern, shame!”

Ogden residents Travis Dlobis and Luke Darookie dressed as clowns, recited Mormon-themed rap songs, and high-fived the street preachers in an effort to distract attendees — “Anything to drown out the noise these guys are making,” said Darookie, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Commenting on the circus atmosphere, a passer-by said, “I hear it’s like this all the time here in Utah. The Twilight Zone.”

Two 13-year-olds, Steve Wilson and Zac Rencher, decided to “join the fun” and parade around with their own handmade signs that mockingly read, “Got Milk” and “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner.”

But not all the sermonizing was light-hearted.

Preachers such as Lonnie Pursifull of Duchesne, attacked the LDS Church with typical fire-and-brimstone fervor.

“This is not holy; this is a joke,” said Pursifull, shaking temple garments in the air. “You think you’re Christian. You’re not Christian, you’re fools.”

Such antics drew jeers from some conferencegoers who called the preachers “bigots” and “idiots.”

But most reacted with feigned indifference.

“I don’t know what their motives are or whether they’re after publicity or are sincere,” said Arizona resident Scott Halladay, 64. “I basically ignore them, try to be polite and hope they’re polite to me.”

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Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
Apr. 4, 2004
www.sltrib.com

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