Main Street Lawsuit Continues

Main Street Lawsuit Continues

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is appealing a federal judge's ruling upholding the land swap the Mormon church and the city engineered to allow the church to control speech and behavior on a block of Main Street.

The ACLU on Friday filed in federal court its intention to take the case to the 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals. The ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of the deal by which the city relinquished its easement on the street block adjacent to the church's temple in exchange for church-owned land elsewhere in the city.

The lawsuit, Utah Gospel Mission vs. Salt Lake City Corp., was filed last August. Early this month, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball dismissed the lawsuit, a development that ACLU of Utah's executive director Dani Eyer said was expected.

In a statement, Eyer said Kimball focused on private property law without giving full consideration to First Amendment free-speech and religion provisions at the core of its challenge to the land swap.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purchased the block in 1999 for $8.1 million. The original agreement had provided for the public easement but the church was to have had control over speech and behavior.

The 10th Circuit in October 2002 ruled the city could not give up the public's speech rights on public easement. The court also said the easement could be relinquished, but didn't elaborate.

In a deal reached last summer, the city gave up the public easement in exchange for four acres in a west Salt Lake City neighborhood and more than $4 million in church and private donations to build a community center.

The ACLU sued on behalf of the Utah Gospel Mission, the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, a pro-nuclear disarmament group, the Utah chapter of the National Organization for Women and two individuals, one of whom has dropped out.

The ACLU contended the agreement unconstitutionally restricted free speech rights and effectively endorsed the church, a violation of the First Amendment. The organization further claimed that the city gave in to the church rather than guarantee civil rights across the former public thoroughfare.

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

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