To proselyter, plaza’s the place

‘Constitution was upheld’ by court, he says
Deseret News, Oct. 11, 2002
By Lynn Arave and Diane Urbani

Deseret News staff writers

The first person to take advantage of the court decision that lifts free-speech restrictions on the Main Street Plaza was an interdenominational minister who was so excited that he drove all night — some 600 miles and on one hour of sleep — to exercise the new right.

Evangelist Kurt Van Gorden, who made an overnight 600-mile drive to Utah from California, passes out religious literature Thursday.

“I believe that the Constitution was upheld by the 10th Circuit,” he said.

Later, Salt Lake City officials met in a closed session to examine their options in light of the court ruling on the plaza.


Van Gorden was arrested last April during LDS general conference for distributing religious material on the Main Street Plaza, located between the LDS Church Office Building and Temple Square.

He said his group doesn’t just proselyte on the plaza. It also uses North Temple and South Temple streets and planned to pass out literature in several other places downtown.

“I do it in other public places,” he said.

Although the Salt Lake leaders’ discussion of the plaza ruling was closed to the public, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson later said the easement’s boundaries need to be set.

“I want to move right away to determine what the easement is,” Anderson said. “It appears to be limited to the walkways.”

He predicted that while the city has jurisdiction over sidewalks, LDS Church security officers may still enforce their prohibitions on church benches, flower beds and other areas beyond the pavement.

“It would be best if the plaintiffs, the city and the church, could sit down and work (the easement boundaries) out together,” Anderson said. “I’d like to see some coming together after all the divisiveness.”

Salt Lake City, like any other American municipality, can regulate the time, place and manner of expressive activities on its streets. For example, Anderson said, skateboarding is prohibited downtown, and the city will probably ban it on Main Street Plaza.

“People shouldn’t be allowed to spit. And smoking should be prohibited,” too, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, Van Gorden said he’ll continue exercising his right to distribute leaflets.

“I had a constitutional right for 24 years,” he said.

Furthermore, despite what some previous media reports have stated, he stressed his literature is not anti-Mormon.

He said the pamphlets he’s distributing make no mention of the LDS Church.

“My message is, God loves you (John 3:16),” Van Gorden said, explaining there are only 22 Bible verses in the tract he uses.

He also said he has nothing against the LDS Church itself and even has relatives who belong to the church.

Van Gorden believes LDS Church security is too heavy-handed, but he said he won’t push the limits of the new ruling, either. For example, he plans on only using the straight sections of sidewalk through the plaza, near the location of the original sidewalk. He said he and his associates won’t go past those main thoroughfares.

Because Temple Square is Utah’s No. 1 tourist attraction and is visited by 5 million people annually, he believes the Main Street Plaza is a prime place for proclaiming the message of the Utah Gospel Mission.

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