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Brigham City, church reach deal in speech dispute at Mormon temple

Published September 19, 2012 11:15 am

Religion • Christian church distributes fliers as city agrees not to enforce free-speech ordinance.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Christian church is passing out fliers on all public sidewalks surrounding a new LDS Temple in Brigham City as of Thursday evening after the city agreed to not enforce a free-speech ordinance.

The Main Street Church of Brigham City filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against the city earlier this week that alleged its constitutional rights were violated when the city used its Free Speech Zone Ordinance to limit its activity to two lightly trafficked sidewalks.

A hearing on the church's request for a temporary restraining order, set for this morning, was canceled.

But the church, represented by the ACLU of Utah, said it contends the ordinance is unconstitutional and will continue its effort to have a federal judge strike the city law.

"We are thrilled that our clients are no longer being banned from public sidewalks merely because they would like to express their views, assemble and freely exercise their religion," said John Mejia, ACLU of Utah legal director, in a statement.

The church wanted to hand out "biblically-based" literature about temples and Christian beliefs during the open house at the temple, which ends Saturday.

Attorney Richard Van Wagoner, representing the city, said the officials agreed to temporarily not enforce the ordinance to avoid costly litigation and after the church agreed to limit participation to four protesters on each sidewalk.

"The city maintains that its Free Speech Ordinance meets all constitutional protections while advancing its compelling interest in public safety," Van Wagoner said in a statement.

Brigham City's ordinance is similar to one adopted by other Utah cities, he noted, adding that Salt Lake City's ordinance was upheld as constitutional by a federal court judge.

City Manager Bruce Leonard said Thursday that the ordinance, adopted in 2010, was aimed at protecting pedestrian and vehicle safety during large-scale events.

brooke@sltrib.com