By James Nelson
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah (Reuters) - A massive wall-painting depicting a Mormon temple in flames along with a catholic monk, police car and a scantily clad woman has sparked a free speech debate in this conservative, heavily Mormon Salt Lake City suburb.
The colorful mural painted on a parking lot wall greets customers at the Canyon Inn Restaurant and Lounge in Cottonwood Heights, a city of 35,000 near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon where ski resorts Solitude and Brighton are located.
"Art work I do, every year I repaint the wall. This year it has created a lot of controversy. It's supposed to. Art is supposed to be provoking and make people think what is going in the community. I hope it continues to do so," James Stojak, owner of the restaurant, said in an interview.
City officials say they are referring complaints to the business owner while they review the matter.
The Mormon Church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been headquartered in Utah since 1847, with its main temple in Salt Lake City.
"Some of the religious overtones of LDS temple being portrayed in flames and the scantily clad woman. I think some find those offensive," said Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore Jr.
Cullimore says the art work is a freedom of speech issue.
"If there was an obscenity standard that was crossed that would be one thing and that doesn't appear to be the case here," he said.
Stojak is leaving the art message open to interpretation.
"I had to have some thought-provoking things so people would think and realize what was going on in Cottonwood Heights," said Stojak.
Stojak says he can't draw and only gave the artist ideas about what to paint, adding that the wall serves as a thinking art piece and as advertising.
He said with the proximity to popular ski resorts skiers from around the world frequent his place and love the artwork.
Since the wall of brightly colored art was done two weeks ago, numerous people have stopped by to take pictures and chat about the controversy, Stojak said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan)