Deseret News, Sep. 18, 2002
By Diane Urbani
Deseret News staff writer
City Attorney Steven Allred said his office would review the allegations and talk to LDS Church representatives to get all the facts.
He’ll seek to determine whether church officers are unlawfully intruding onto the sidewalk and infringing on First Amendment rights. “We’ll be contacting their attorneys,” Allred said.
Last spring Van Gorden, director of the Utah Gospel Mission evangelists, was arrested for passing out literature while walking through the church-owned plaza adjacent to Temple Square.
That arrest was within the church’s authority, since it bought the stretch of Main Street where the plaza now sits from Salt Lake City in 1999. The distribution of any literature not approved by the LDS Church is prohibited on the 2-acre site, which has been renamed West Church Plaza.
But more recently, Van Gorden said, church security officers have sought to intimidate him and other members of his group while they were standing on public property.
Mark Van Gorden, 14, added that a church security officer demanded to know his name and address on an August day when he was distributing Christian literature. “I asked, ‘What have we done?’ and the officer said there had been incidents in the past.” Church officers then “said we had a trespass warning . . . then they took our photographs and filmed us,” he said.
There’s no question that church officers acted within the law, said LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills. But it seems that “harassment,” “intimidation” and “caution” will have to be defined when Salt Lake City attorneys meet with those of the LDS Church.
“We have no record of Mr. Van Gorden being barred from the West Church Plaza. He and some of his associates have been cautioned about distributing literature on the plaza but have not been prevented from walking there,” Bills said.
When people approach LDS Church-owned land, “we will caution them. We simply remind them that distribution of literature is not permitted.”
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