Lawsuit Likely Over Main St. Decision

Lawsuit Likely Over Main St. Decision

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union in Utah says people are volunteering to sue the city over a decision to give up a sidewalk area through the LDS church-owned downtown plaza in exchange for a community center in a low-income area.

The swap would allow the church to prohibit smoking, sunbathing, bicycling, obscene or vulgar speech, dress or conduct on the plaza. It also would allow the church to ban any preaching it did not approve of.

"We have people willing to be plaintiffs," Utah ACLU Executive Director Dani Eyer said Wednesday. "We're going to take a hard look at how this decision was made."

Eyer would not say who the plaintiffs might be.

Tuesday night, the all-LDS City Council voted 6-0 with one abstention to approve Mayor Rocky Anderson's plan to give up the city's easement -- and accompanying public free-speech rights -- through the LDS church-owned downtown plaza in exchange for the community center.

The deal would allow The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to control access and behavior on the downtown block of Main Street it purchased from the city in 1999 and turned into a plaza adjacent to Temple Square.

If opponents do not obtain a restraining order, the easement will be vacated in 35 days.

The plaza dispute started in April 1999, when then-Mayor Deedee Corradini and LDS church President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the $8.1 million sale of one block of Main Street to the church.

City leaders insisted on public access. The church in turn demanded control of speech, dress and conduct on the plaza. The ACLU sued, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last fall that as long as the easement existed, the city was obligated to uphold free-speech rights on the sidewalks through the plaza. The church has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

Craig Axford, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Wednesday he would contact the ACLU about suing again. "If they need a plaintiff, I'm willing to be one," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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