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ACLU sues after animal activists charged in Lagoon protest

(Chris Samuels/Deseret News/File)

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has filed a civil rights lawsuit after charges were filed against two animal rights activists protesting outside of Lagoon amusement park.

The group said Tuesday that a city ordinance violates the right to free speech by requiring permits for any sort of protest on public property. Attorneys say the rule gives officials with the city of Farmington too much power to decide who gets a permit and who is prosecuted for protesting without one.

The lawsuit was filed after activists Jeremy Beckham and Alexis Levitt were charged with misdemeanors for protesting the living conditions of animals at Lagoon on July 18.

Farmington City Manager Dave Millheim says that the city takes free speech seriously, and would repeal any part of the ordinance deemed unconstitutional.

"We don't have a problem with free speech. If anything's wrong in that ordinance, I'm pulling it out faster than you can shake a stick at," he said.

The city has already suspended enforcement of the rule, and asked the Utah Attorney General's Office to review it, he said. The rule is designed to make police aware of protests and has only been used a handful of times since it was passed about 13 years ago, Millheim said.

He says the city tried to work with the animal activists, who were cited only after they ignored certified letters asking them to get a permit following a series of protests.

But ACLU attorney John Mejia said that if the rule is too broad and it doesn't matter if the city tried to work with the protesters.

"To have a valid permit requirement, you have to very narrowly tailor it," he said.

Lagoon spokesman Adam Leishman says that the park has an excellent track record of caring for its animals, which include buffalo, elk, camel, tigers and warthogs.

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