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Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Reverses
District Court Decision on Main Street
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 9, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY -- In a decision issued today, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado reversed a Utah District Court decision and declared the sidewalks in the Main Street Plaza in Salt Lake City a public forum.
The case stems from Salt Lake City’s sale of one block of downtown Main Street to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although the city sold the property, it retained an easement guaranteeing public access and passage 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
In its appeal to the Tenth Circuit, the ACLU of Utah argued that the city overstepped its constitutional authority when it agreed to allow the church to use the plaza sidewalks to communicate its own messages while prohibiting those who do not conform to the church’s views on religious, political, and moral issues from exercising their First Amendment rights on the plaza.
In a unanimous decision, a panel of three judges from the Tenth Circuit Court stated that "the City may not exchange the public’s constitutional rights even for other public benefits such as the revenue from the sale and certainly may not provide a public space or passage conditioned on a private actor’s desire that that space be expression-free ... If it wants an easement, the City must permit speech on the easement."
Janelle Eurick, ACLU of Utah staff attorney, characterized the ruling as a clear victory for free speech. "The court has sent a strong message to municipalities that unconstitutional restrictions on the public’s use of traditional public forums will not be tolerated."
Craig Axford, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, feels today’s ruling is a win for city taxpayers. "The constitutional rights associated with Main Street belong to the public, and there is no amount of money that can make up for their loss."
Jared Wood, spokesperson for plaintiff group Utahns for Fairness, agrees, stating, "Even in a time that is increasingly hostile to individual liberties, it is a relief to hear the court so strongly state that the First Amendment is not for sale."
Reverend Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church, another plaintiff in the case, stated, "America is fundamentally a democracy where diverse cultures and different ideas meet on common ground. The court has ruled that Salt Lake City is no exception."
In May 2001, the Utah District Court upheld the constitutionality of the restrictions on the Plaza. Today’s ruling reverses that decision and the court has ruled that the plaza sidewalks are public thoroughfares, and are therefore subject to the same constitutional protections as traditional public forums.
First Unitarian Church v. Salt Lake City Corporation, Case Number 01-4111
October 9 ruling from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals