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John Daley Reporting...The Salt Lake City Council last night voted to give up the public easement on Main Street to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Now, the key players are considering what's next.
One possibility – and at least one lawsuit -- would focus in part on whether the deal violates the separation of church and state.
Two questions stand out. One is the political question: Should the city give up its public easement?
The answer to that came last night with a 6-zero vote to give up the easement in connection with building a new west side community center.
The legal question now: Did the deal violate the Constitution's separation of church and state?
The local chapter of the ACLU was watching closely -- mulling over a lawsuit that would pose that very question.
Dani Eyer, Exec. Director, ACLU of Utah: "IT'S ONE THING TO WANT PEACE AND QUIET. IT'S ONE THING TO WANT SOMETHING DIFFICULT TO BE OVER. BUT IT'S ANOTHER THING TO HAVE A CONSTITUTIONALLY DEFENSIBLE REASON FOR WHAT THEY DID."
One key legal test in a possible court battle is whether the decision to extinguish the easement had a secular reason behind it.
From its national office in New York ACLU attorney Mark Lopez did not mince words today, telling Eyewitness News "We think the city did cave...they capitulated to public pressure." He says the church "wants the right to exclude people critical of their views, to exclude protesters." Lopez calls the decision "improper," making it clear a lawsuit is likely.
An attorney for the church says restrictions similar to those in place before the controversy erupted -- are likely to be re-imposed.
He believes the ACLU arguments won't fly in federal court.
Von Keetch/Attorney, LDS Church: "THE CITY IS RECEIVING ACREAGE ON THE WEST SIDE, IT'S RECEIVING 5 MILLION DOLLARS OF INDEPENDENT CONTRIBUTORS, IT'S RECEIVING LEGAL FEES. THERE ARE JUST A LOT OF SECULAR ADVANTAGES THAT THE CITY IS RECEIVING BY GOING FORWARD WITH THIS DEAL."