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John Daley reporting The battle over the sale of Salt Lake City property to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended up in court, in a dispute over free speech.
Now, the proposed solution to the Main Street Plaza issue may open up an even larger battle over constitutional issues, particularly, the separation of church and state.
In a very real sense, the intersection of Main Street and North Temple is where the religious and the secular intersect in our city. But if you look beyond the emotions of this divisive issue--the legal question remains --if the city gives up its public easement to the church--has it become "excessively entangled" with one religion?
On Salt Lake's Main Street Plaza, the community is now heading into uncharted waters, with potentially rough seas ahead.
That's certainly how some educated observers, like law professor and constitutional expert Ed Firmage, see it.
Ed Firmage Law Professor/Uni. of Utah "YOU'VE GOT A WONDERFUL FACE OFF THAT COULD BECOME AN AWFUL FACE OFF, BUT NEEDN'T, BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE."
The dillema? If it decides to turn over the city's public easement on Main Street, is the government, in the form of Mayor Rocky Anderson and the city council, getting dangerously close to favoring one religion, and running afoul of the Constitution?
Ed Firmage Law Professor/Uni. of Utah "THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE FORBIDS THAT KIND OF COZY RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE."
Many--including some who spoke at last night's council meeting--favor the Mayor's proposal to give up the easement in exchange for land and money to help build a new cultural center of the west side.
But constitutional scholars instead, are studying it under the microscope of Supreme Court rulings, and asking:
...does the decision have a secular or non-religious purpose...
...would it advance the interests of one religion...
...or cause excessive government entanglement with religion...
If the city fails to answer those questions properly, could it once again end up in a bruising court battle?
Rocky Anderson Salt Lake City Mayor "DO YOU THINK THERE'S ANY CHANCE IN FIVE YEARS WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK WHERE WE STARTED FROM? I THINK A VERY SLIM CHANCE. I THINK EVERYBODY HAS TAKED A MUCH HARDER LOOK AT THE CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES THAN INITIALLY."
Alan Sullivan Attorney for LDS Church "I NEVER SAY NEVER. BUT EVERYBODY HAS DONE THE BEST THEY CAN TO MAKE A GOOD DEAL FOR THE COMMUNITY THAT'LL BE PERFECTLY COMPLIANT WITH THE LAW."
But some, like Professor Firmage, fear permanent division among citizens if the city passes yet another deal that later gets struck down in court.
"YOU CAN HAVE TEN MILLION READERS DIGEST INSERTS TELLING PEOPLE HOW NICE A COMMUNITY UTAH IS AND WHAT NICE PEOPLE THE MORMONS ARE THAT WILL NEVER TOUCH THE KIND OF DAMAGE YOU DO TO A COMMUNITY IF YOU OPEN UP A CHURCH STATE RIFT."
It's not clear exactly how the council will vote next Tuesday night, but it appears the Mayor will have the votes to pass his proposal. Meantime, the national office of the ACLU has made it clear: If that happens, it intends to file another lawsuit. This time, separation of church and state could be the key issue.