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John Daley reportingDani Eyer, ACLU Executive Director:"THERE ARE CERTAIN LINES THAT OUGHT NOT BE CROSSED. AND IN THIS INSTANCE, WE BELIEVE THE LINES HAVE BEEN CROSSED."
The American Civil Liberties Union says there was no "secular" reason for Salt Lake City to give up its easement on the Main Street Plaza--and is filing a -lawsuit to prove it.
The Main Street Plaza controversy is NOT over yet.
The ACLU today filed a much-expected federal lawsuit--challenging the deal.
The land swap, between Salt Lake, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave the church the power to regulate behavior on a downtown pedestrian block.
But the ACLU says the deal crossed the line separating church and state.
The issue the first time around, was whether the city could keep an easement, and turn over the regulation of free speech to the church.
A federal appeals court said "no."
The land swap deal was designed to resolve the issue, but instead it'll be at the heart of a case about the separation of church and state.
The new Main Street Court fight promises to focus on Utah's Mormon-non-Mormon divide. That focus could be as intense as it has ever been.
In a case assigned to federal Judge Dale Kimball, the ACLU suit seeks to restore free speech on the Main Street Plaza, after the city's easement was turned over to the LDS Church in a land swap arranged by Salt Lake's Mayor.
The ACLU says churches are free to disseminate their messages, but this deal violates the Constitution's separation of church and state.
Dani Eyer, ACLU Executive Director: "THE PROBLEM IS WHEN A GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL OR A GOVERNMENT ENTITY CAPITULATES TO THAT MESSAGE AND SHOWS FAVORITISM TO OTHER MESSAGES IN THE COMMUNITY."
Nonsense says the Mayor--himself a former ACLU board president--the city got great secular benefit from the deal--including a soon-to-be-build community center.
Rocky Anderson, Salt Lake City Mayor: "IT IS SO PREPOSTEROUS TO SAY THAT SOMEHOW I AND THIS ADMINISTRATION MADE THIS PROPOSAL IN ORDER TO PROMOTE ANY PARTICULAR RELIGION."
The Church is not a defendant but may file to join the suit.
Alan Sullivan, Attorney for LDS Church: "THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE IN OUR COMMUNITY WISH THIS WAS OVER AND HOPED IT WOULD BE OVER. WE LOOK AT THE SUIT AND SEE IT AS THE CULMINATION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS."
But that process will now be under the microscope.
The ACLU suit claims: "The Mayor's decision to abandon the easement is directly attributable to the pressure applied by the LDS Church and the divisiveness the Church threatened the community with if the Mayor did not accede to its demands."
One of the plaintiffs in the case says he joined the ACLU because after 10 years living in Utah, he'd had enough.
Lee Siegel, Plaintiff: "THIS ACTION BY THE CITY IS YET ANOTHER MESSAGE TO NON-MORMONS IN THIS CITY THAT OUR VIEWS DON'T MATTER. IF THE MAYOR WANTS UNITY, IF THE CHURCH WANTS UNITY, THERE'S GOING TO HAVE TO BE GREATER RESPECT FOR THOSE OF US WHO HAVE FEELINGS DIFFERENT FROM THE MAJORITY IN THIS STATE."
We can expect Main Street Two to go on for a number of years.
A court fight here in federal court will likely end up at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
This could eventually go all the way to the Supreme Court.