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Casino, Religious Groups Side With Church on Plaza Issue

Casino, Religious Groups Side With Church on Plaza Issue

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Las Vegas casino, several religious groups and associations of cities and counties have filed briefs supporting the Mormon church's argument that it should be able to control speech on property it bought from the city.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is appealing a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the public easement on the downtown block the church bought from Salt Lake City and turned from a street to a plaza is a public forum and open to free speech activities.

The Venetian Casino Resort has a similar situation. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private walkways in front of the casino continue to function like public sidewalks and are open to free speech activities -- which have included labor pickets.

Venetian, which filed its brief April 14, wants the U.S. Supreme Court to "vindicate its rights as a private landowner."

A group of 13 religious organizations also filed a brief supporting banning protests on property purchased from government agencies. The group includes Seventh-day Adventists, the Colorado Catholic Conference, the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.

The National League of Cities, the International Municipal Lawyers Association and the National Association of Counties also supported the church, arguing the 10th Circuit ruling "seriously undermines the ability of local governments to manage property in the public interest."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff raised similar concerns in his brief filed in support of the church. Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and West Virginia joined that filing.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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