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Street Preachers Lose Court Battle

Street Preachers Lose Court Battle

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal judge has ruled Salt Lake City's ban on street preachers around the Mormon conference center is constitutional.

In a 28-page ruling released Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell upheld the city's rules limiting the places where preachers can stand and sermonize during the church's twice-annual worldwide conferences.

The city adopted the zones after the October 2003 conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when two street preachers were assaulted by conference attendees.

"The city not only has a significant interest, but a duty, to ensure the safety of these persons, as well as others who are walking, driving and demonstrating, near or at the Conference," Campbell wrote.

Attorneys for the World Wide Street Preachers Fellowship argued the zones violate the constitutional rights to free speech and unfettered exercise of religion.

Attorney Geoffrey Dobbin said he was disappointed with Campbell's decision. He planned to meet with his clients and analyze the ruling before making a decision on a possible appeal to the 10th Circuit.

The basic framework of the buffer zones will remain in place for the April 2005 conference, Salt Lake City Attorney Ed Rutan said, although the restrictions change slightly with each gathering depending on how many demonstrators apply for permits to protest in designated reserved areas.

A spokesman for the LDS Church declined to comment on Tuesday's ruling, noting the church has never been a party in the case.

Preachers said their religion requires -- and the Constitution allows -- them to be able to stand and preach. They complained the city's rules expanded no-standing zones - which forbid anyone from standing on some parts of the sidewalk when pedestrian traffic peaks with up to 25,000 conference-goers entering the center.

Campbell wrote the no-standing rule applies to everyone, not just the preachers.

Campbell also said protesters are allowed to walk through those zones with conference-goers and spread their message by speaking, carrying signs and handing out pamphlets. They just can't stand still.

The judge used a similar analysis when she rejected the preachers' request for a temporary restraining order before the April 2004 conference.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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