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The Mormon church cannot restrict speech on the sidewalks running through its downtown plaza, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. The city sold the land for the plaza — once a part of Salt Lake City’s Main Street — to the church, but retained easement rights to ensure pedestrian access. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said because sidewalks are a traditional public forum, the city should protect free speech rights there. “The city cannot take action that runs afoul of our first and primary amendment,” the ruling states. “The city cannot create a ‘First Amendment-free zone.’ Their attempt to do so must fail.” The American Civil Liberties Union and the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City sued after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints imposed rules restricting protests, demonstrations and other activities on the one-block plaza. A lower court judge had agreed with the Mormon church and the city that the limits were constitutional. The Mormon church claims that permitting free speech on the sidewalks would infringe on its right of free expression, but the court found that the church “has no First Amendment right to be protected from public speech.” The Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the Unitarian church said the restrictions were “a major affront to all people who have diverse opinions.” He added that he hoped the ruling would be “a wonderful opportunity for healing between Mormons and non-Mormons.” Mormon church lawyers were reading the decision carefully and considering options, spokesman Dale Bills said. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, a former civil rights attorney who was not involved in selling the land, said the city will abide by the decision. After buying the block of Main Street for $8.1 million, the Mormon church turned it into a plaza with fountains, reflecting pools, plants and statues. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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