BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is suing the town of Brigham City, claiming it is squelching a non-denominational Christian church's free speech by limiting flier distribution near a Mormon temple.
Leaders of Main Street Church say they got a city permit to pass out literature during the temple's open house Aug. 18 to Sept. 15, but have been barred from staking out the two busiest sides of the building.
"The overbreadth of Brigham City's 'Free Speech Zone' Ordinance is breathtaking," said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah. "Under this ordinance, you would arguably have to apply for a permit to engage in nearly any speech in the city. The ordinance could be used to silence anyone, from two friends debating politics on the sidewalk to a missionary handing out fliers."
A court hearing on the suit is set for Friday morning.
Brigham City Attorney Kirk Morgan told KSL that Main Street Church members are upset because they're being kept away from bus unloading zones, where thousands of people arrive at the temple each day. Morgan said the restrictions are for pedestrian and traffic safety.
"We have a huge traffic issue in that area," Morgan said. "We even would discourage the LDS Church or any other individual from handing out pamphlets in that area."
Main Street, which describes itself as a Bible-based church with a presence in Brigham City since the 1960s, believes Mormonism falls outside of orthodox Christianity.
The church planned to distribute literature — including some pointing out differences between the LDS Church and its own beliefs — during the monthlong open house period in which Mormons and non-Mormons can tour the temple. The event has drawn about 18,000 people each day.
Main Street is asking for the restriction to be lifted, attorney fees, and $1 in damages from the defendants.
"Main Street Church vehemently opposes the hate speech and perverse actions that some groups have used to badger, mistreat and disrespect the Mormon people," Pastor Jim Catlin said in a statement. "However, we do believe we have the right to express our beliefs to the public on public sidewalks."