* Rival church sought to pamphlet near Mormon temple
* 'Free-speech' permits can limit time, participants
By Jennifer Dobner
Sept 12 The American Civil Liberties Union has
sued a Utah city in federal court over a "free-speech zone"
ordinance, saying the Orwellian-named measure unconstitutionally
requires a permit for almost any form of public expression.
The lawsuit was filed against Brigham City on Tuesday on
behalf of the Main Street Church, a non-denominational faith
barred under the municipal statute from distributing pamphlets
on some sidewalks near a new Mormon temple in town.
Brigham City, a predominantly Mormon town of about 18,000
people, is about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City, the state
The ordinance in question requires any individual or group
wishing to stage a demonstration, hand out literature or engage
in other forms of public expression to seek a municipal permit
establishing an approved "free-speech" zone for that activity.
The permit, if granted, can include limits on the time,
place and number of participants. Violations are punishable by
civil fines of up to $750 or a misdemeanor criminal prosecution
that carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail.
"The overbreadth of Brigham City's 'Free Speech Zone'
Ordinance is breathtaking," John Mejia, legal director of the
ACLU of Utah, said in a written statement.
"Under this ordinance, you would arguably have to apply for
a permit to engage in nearly any speech in the city," he said.
"The ordinance could be used to silence anyone, from two friends
debating politics on the sidewalk to a missionary handing out
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City,
asks a federal judge to declare the ordinance unconstitutional
and seeks an injunction barring its enforcement.
Attorney Heather White, who represents Brigham City and its
officers, declined to comment on Wednesday, saying she had only
just begun to read the lawsuit's allegations.
The city said in a statement later in the day that the
measure was not intended for "restricting freedom of speech, but
for public and protester safety" and was based on other state
and local laws believed to have been upheld by the courts.
The ordnance turns all of Brigham City "into a place where
free speech, free assembly and free exercise of religion are
prohibited until people are granted a special permit designating
free speech zones where they are allowed to engage in those
activities," the lawsuit alleges.
On Aug. 18, Main Street Church Pastor Jim Catlin sought a
permit to publicly distribute religious-themed literature on the
sidewalks surrounding a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints temple during a month-long open house for the new
building, according to the lawsuit.
Brigham City officials issued a permit limiting access for
Catlin's group between Aug. 21 and Sept. 15 to three areas on
lesser-trafficked sidewalks and capped the number of permitted
pamphleteers at four, the lawsuit said.
A second application seeking unlimited access to city
streets for literature distribution was denied outright by city
officials, who cited general security and traffic concerns.
In a written explanation of the city's decision included as
an exhibit in the court filing, the city said its initial permit
had provided the church with "ample opportunity to communicate
with your targeted audience and provides protection to
protesters, vehicular traffic and pedestrians."
The letter also states that the city "supports and upholds
the First Amendment's guarantee of the right of free expression
as a fundamental element of our democratic system of government,
and encourages the expression of such speech and discourse."
(Reporting by Jennifer Dobner; Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia
Johnston and Todd Eastham)