BRIGHAM CITY -- The Utah Chapter of the ACLU sued Brigham City in federal court Tuesday calling its free speech zone ordinance unconstitutional.
The suit was filed on behalf of the Main Street Church, of Brigham, which has been handing out literature critical of the LDS Church from free speech zones, established via the ordinance, adjacent to the new Brigham City LDS Temple.
Temple tours in an open house for the public have been under way since Aug. 18. The Main Street Church was allowed to set up the zones along the full length of sidewalks in the temple block on its north and south sides.
But members were restricted from the west side, where church shuttle buses have been delivering an estimated 300,000 people for the temple tours the past three weeks.
The lawsuit mentions the tours specifically.
"Defendants are currently prohibiting Main Street Church from accessing public sidewalks to engage in its protected free speech activities, including distributing religious literature. It is imperative for the church to be able to access those sidewalks during the Open House for the LDS Temple in Brigham City, Utah, which ends on September 15, 2012.
"After that date, pedestrian traffic will dwindle and Main Street Church will have lost a significant opportunity to communicate its free speech and religious message."
The suit specifically names as defendants the city, City Attorney Kirk Morgan, Police Chief Paul Tittensor and City Administrator Bruce Leonard.
The three officials constitute the committee designated by the ordinance to create the boundaries of free speech zones in the ordinance approved two years ago.
The ordinance defines an unlawful protest as interfering with crowd control, using amplifiers or harassing with physical contact. Violation is a class C misdemeanor punishable with a fine of $750 and a possible jail term not to exceed 90 days.
"It's unfortunate," Leonard said of the lawsuit. "The Main Street Church is our neighbor, and they've been a good neighbor."
The church is at 48 N. Main, next to Brigham City Hall.
"We felt like we were providing everybody the opportunity to express themselves while at the same time addressing concerns about public safety with the traffic, which by my understanding is going to exceed the projected 300,000 visitors," Leonard said.
"The ordinance violates the Utah and United States Constitutions because it requires a permit for almost any conceivable form of public expression and imposes civil and criminal penalties for failing to comply," John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said in a news release. "This ordinance could subject many unsuspecting people in Brigham City to liability for engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment."
"Main Street Church vehemently opposes the hate speech and perverse actions that some groups have used to badger, mistreat and disrespect the Mormon people," the church's pastor, Jim Catlin, said in the ACLU news release.
"However, we do believe we have the right to express our beliefs to the public on public sidewalks."
Formal dedication of the temple is scheduled for Sept. 23.