SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- Attorneys for the Mormon Church plan to ask a federal appeals court to take another look at its ruling lifting restrictions on sidewalk evangelists who preach at a downtown Salt Lake City plaza that is owned by the church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday it would seek a review by the full court in Denver of this week's ruling that determined the walkways were public though the church had bought the property from the city for $8.1 million in 1999.
"In substance, the 10th Circuit has ruled that even though the church paid more than $8 million for the Main Street property and millions more to improve it, the church has little right to control what occurs on that property," said Von Keetch, an attorney for the church.
In a 39-page ruling issued Wednesday, the three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the city had retained easements on the Main Street Plaza walkways for public use, and the church was out of bounds when it issued a raft of rules for the property banning smoking, sunbathing, obscene language and "disorderly speech, dress or conduct."
The American Civil Liberties Union went to court on behalf of the First Unitarian Church, arguing the rules the LDS Church had established allowed its members to expose their beliefs at the plaza while banning members of other churches -- including some individuals with anti-Mormon sentiments -- from doing the same.
"America is fundamentally a democracy where diverse cultures and different ideas meet on common ground," the Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the Unitarians said in an ACLU statement. "The court has ruled that Salt Lake City is no exception."
Wednesday's ruling overturned a lower court decision siding with the LDS's contention the sale and improvements to the property made it no longer a public forum subject to constitutional protections. The 10th Circuit, however, said the city's retention of the easement and the public nature of the sidewalk indeed made it a forum where free speech was protected.
"Protecting the church's expression from competition is not a legitimate purpose of the easement or its restrictions," the opinion said.