The Mormon Church (LDS) bought a city block adjacent to their Salt Lake City temple through a controversial deal with the city in 1999. They then heavily restricted activity on the property, which included the exercise of free speech.

Converting the property from public to private seemed to be a practical way to essetially create a buffer zone for the historic temple. And the church made this clear by imposing rules that specifically prohibited evangelical Christians from preaching and handing out anti-Mormon tracts on the block they bought.

Ultimately a lawsuit ensued and the LDS won the first round when a Mormon judge ruled in its favor. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed that decision and a federal court in Denver reversed the lower court’s rulings, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The evangelicals are now back and exercising their free speech by proclaiming Mormonism a “false religion.” LDS leaders are not happy and contemplating whether they will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

It seems that within Utah, a state dominated if not controlled by the Mormon Church, officials are often willing to do just about anything to accommodate the powerful religion. Allowing the church to buy city property to create the buffer zone looks like one example.

Interestingly, the Mormon religion promotes the idea that America is God’s promised and special land. But the constitutional rights that uniquely define the United States, such as free speech and the free exercise of religion, don’t seem to matter much to Mormons unless it’s their own. This seems odd for a religion that came to Utah as a result of “persecution.”

One non-Mormon Salt Lake City councilwoman who was outvoted regarding the sale of the property in question observed, “This is very symbolic for a lot of people of the tension between the LDS Church and the non-LDS people [in Utah].”

What will the church do now? The mayor of Salt Lake City has apparently decided to bail out of the situation and will not join the LDS in any further court battles. A good politician usually knows when to cut his losses. Hopefully the Mormon hierarchy, known for its historic pragmatism, will do the same.


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