LDS Church posts tougher signs on plaza
New signs have gone up on downtown Salt Lake City's Main Street Plaza. Visitors now are on notice: "The [LDS] Church reserves the right to refuse access to any person for any reason."
The change addresses concerns raised about how the church notifies visitors regarding the private nature of the public-street-turned-ecclesiastical-park.
In July, church guards detained a gay couple after they shared a kiss on the plaza. The guards called Salt Lake City police, who cited the two men for trespassing. But City Prosecutor Sim Gill declined to press charges, saying the church's signs failed to adequately warn the couple that they were entering private property.
"I'm glad to see [the church] move forward," Gill said Monday. "We've never said the property owner does not have an absolute right to enforce their property rights."
The new language and the addition of "private property" to several signs around the plaza add the "clarity that was missing," he said. Future visitors who are detained on the space and refuse to leave could be prosecuted for trespassing just like unwanted visitors to a person's home could be.
Salt Lake City sold the block of Main Street between North Temple and South Temple in 1999, but retained a public easement to ensure that pedestrians could access the former thoroughfare. Lawsuits erupted over whether the church should be allowed to regulate behavior on the plaza, such as picketing and offensive language.
Ultimately, the city, in 2003, agreed to swap the public right of way for a west-side community center. The public's accompanying free-speech rights on the plaza also evaporated.
Karen McCreary, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which fought to preserve the plaza's public easement free of church restrictions on speech, called the new signs a "good start." She said she would like to see the church explain, perhaps on its Web site, what the rules governing the plaza are. That way visitors would know what behaviors could get them ejected.
"It might be helpful," McCreary said, "if [church officials] could give more guidance to people about what they view as inappropriate."
The gay couple, Derek Jones and Matt Aune, said they shared a hug and a small smooch on the plaza. But the church, in a July statement, said it was "much more." It said the two men "engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language" that would have been deemed inappropriate for "any couple on the plaza."
The incident sparked two "kiss-in" demonstrations near the plaza by supporters of the couple, who viewed the church's reaction to a gay display of affection as discriminatory.
The church has declined to list banned behavior. But at the time it negotiated the plaza purchase, the church outlined prohibitions on protesting, smoking, sunbathing and other "offensive, indecent, obscene, lewd or disorderly speech, dress or conduct." Plaza signs let people know that skateboarding, bicycling and roller skating also are not allowed.
LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said Monday that "some additional text was added to the signs" at the "suggestion of the Salt Lake City Prosecutor's Office." He did not answer a question about whether any of the plaza's rules have changed.
Gill said in July that, for the church to enforce its rules, it either had to post more explicit signs warning that the plaza was private or close the property to the public.
Church leaders always have stated that they want to keep the plaza open as an inviting, beautiful space for passers-by to enjoy.