Legislator Proposes Bill to Curb Street Preachers

Legislator Proposes Bill to Curb Street Preachers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Utah legislator has borrowed from a Colorado law curbing anti-abortion activists outside clinics to restrict actions of street preachers and others who protest outside places of worship.

Rep. Doug Aagard, R-Kaysville, said that after watching the actions of street preachers toward members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attending general conference last year, "I started to look for a way to bring things in order."

Aagard's HB131 would make violation of the proposed restrictions a class B misdemeanor and would allow the person targeted with unwanted statements and leaflets to sue for civil damages and seek a court injunction.

The bill was advanced Tuesday by a House Committee and now goes to the House floor.

It is similar to a 1993 Colorado law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. That law makes it unlawful for any person within 100 feet of a health-care facility to knowingly approach a person within 8 feet with the purpose of passing a leaflet, displaying a sign or engaging in "sidewalk counseling." Protesters must stay 100 feet away from the facilities' entrances.

Aagard told members of the House Judiciary Committee the law would help establish standards for street preachers outside Temple Square.

"I feel like we need a base standard throughout the state to protect people and these places," Aagard said.

HB131 would restrict protesters at both medical facilities and places of worship.

One attorney, who represents the street preachers, said he is disturbed by the proposed bill and said his clients likely challenge it in court if it is passed.

The Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union believes the bill is too broad because it restricts protests of churches and medical facilities statewide in order to deal with one particular situation.

However, ACLU Executive Director Dani Eyer said the organization ACLU is torn over the law because on one hand it protects the freedom to practice religion while on the other it raises freedom of speech issues.

"We're pretty conflicted about it," Eyer said.

Aagard said people attending religious functions have a right to be protected against someone who wants to "get in a person's face."

When asked by committee members why the law would encompass all such facilities statewide, as opposed to focusing on Temple Square, Aagard said, "You never know what the future will bring."

Rep. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, voted against the bill, saying Salt Lake City and Mayor Rocky Anderson's time-place-and-manner system deals with the issue.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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