Church Points To NYC Plaza Ruling As Example

Church Points To NYC Plaza Ruling As Example

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hopes a federal appeals court ruling on free speech at a New York City plaza will convince the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling on their plaza in downtown Salt Lake City.

A decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November banned union protesters from Lincoln Center's plaza in New York.

Von Keetch, an attorney for the church, believes that ruling conflicts with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Salt Lake City plaza must remain open to free speech, including protests, even though it is owned by the church.

"If the 10th Circuit would have used the 2nd Circuit analysis, the case would have come out exactly the opposite," Keetch said. "The 2nd Circuit got it right."

Mark Lopez, staff attorney for the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said there are critical differences. Lopez argued the Main Street case before the 10th Circuit and filed an amicus brief in the Manhattan suit.

"This is not that controversial," Lopez said. "It's as if the city built its own sidewalk through their property. It's a nickel- and-dime sidewalk case colored with some interesting facts."

A panel of three 10th Circuit judges ruled in October that the church cannot evict protesters or enforce rules of public conduct because the city retains a public easement through the plaza. The church appealed, but the full Denver-based court declined to hear the case.

Mayor Rocky Anderson has refused to give up the easement and the city and church have been unable to resolve the issue.

Church attorneys want to use the 2nd Circuit ruling to try to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their Main Street appeal.

The Manhattan case started in 1999 after members of a hotel and restaurant employees union passed out leaflets on a plaza in the middle of the Lincoln Center performing arts complex and were threatened with arrest.

A union request for a permit to hold a rally was denied. The union sued and the district court ruled that the city, and the nonprofit group that oversees the plaza, could ban protests.

A 2nd Circuit panel ruled in favor of the union, but the full appeals court ruled last month that prohibiting certain speech is "reasonable" because the plaza was created as a centerpiece for the arts complex. Such plazas are not traditionally dedicated to expressive activities, the judges wrote.

"I just don't see much difference between the two plazas," Keetch said.

Lopez does.

"If this continues to look and smell and sound like a public sidewalk ... we will continue to assert that First Amendment principles are at play," Lopez says.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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