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Judge Reconsiders Main St. Buffer Zones

Judge Reconsiders Main St. Buffer Zones

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell refused to block the restrictions immediately after their adoption last March. But now the judge is considering the issue on its full merits.

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.

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

Salt Lake City must prove that the restrictions don't discriminate, are narrowly tailored and leave other alternatives for Christian-style preachers to criticize the Mormon religion.

Campbell ordered additional legal briefs on arguments held Wednesday.

The judge didn't say when she would decide the case.

At Wednesday's hearing, attorney Randall Wenger said the new zones, which forbid street preachers from remaining stationary anywhere but in designated areas away from the main pedestrian traffic flow, prevent his clients from effectively spreading their evangelical message.

"The success that they've had in their mission is when they're able to hand out tracts, when they're able to interact," he said. "This policy was aimed specifically at the preachers because of the message and what they were doing," Wenger said.

City Attorney Ed Rutan disputed the claim that the protest zones are directed at silencing criticism of the Mormon church, noting the restrictions apply equally to everyone who shows up outside the Conference Center twice a year.

"It is definitely not limited to one particular group," Rutan said. "It applies to everyone."

Campbell appeared to question Rutan's assertion, saying it appears to be the street preachers who are most affected by the policy. The judge also questioned the city's argument that the zone plan ensures the safety of both the preachers and conference-attendees by preventing a repeat of the October 2003 incident.

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

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