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SALT LAKE CITY (AP/KSL News) -- The city is exploring the idea of temporarily restricting free speech on the Main Street Plaza during this weekend's General Conference.
The plaza could become an attractive place for street preachers to sermonize against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the plaza.
Also, those protesting the war in Iraq might find the plaza an ideal place to get their message to thousands of conference goers. In the past, more than 20,000 members of the LDS Church have attended the two-day conference.
In an effort to control that potential free-speech frenzy, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson has consulted the city's attorney about creating "time, place and manner" restrictions for the plaza, which is just south of the church's Conference Center.
Anderson could enact these restrictions by executive order.
An executive order would bypass the City Council, but the order wouldn't carry criminal penalties. Police couldn't arrest violators, but they could ask violators to move along. If violators refused, they could, hypothetically, be arrested for disobeying a police officer's commands.
"It would be sort of like the Olympics where the idea was to have some temporary regulations," said City Attorney Ed Rutan.
Anderson spokesman Josh Ewing said nothing has been decided.
"This is only a discussion," he said. "We haven't made any decisions about it."
Dani Eyer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Utah, said her office generally supports permanent time, place and manner rules for the plaza. However, a temporary fix just for a weekend causes some "mixed feelings," she said.
The LDS church wouldn't comment directly on the proposal.
"The church hopes that all people on the plaza will be respectful of one another," said church spokesman Dale Bills. "With a mile of city sidewalks surrounding church sites, there are plenty of other places for loud demonstrations."
Meanwhile, the LDS Church itself has applied for a permit to protest on the city sidewalks outside the Conference Center, where street preachers usually hand out anti-LDS literature.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)