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Salt Lake City issues free-speech guidelines

By The Associated Press
02.09.04

SALT LAKE CITY — In an attempt to inform residents as to what type of speech is constitutionally protected, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has released educational guidelines examining free-speech doctrine.

The three-page document, released Feb. 6, precedes a revision of the city's speech guidelines to be approved by the City Council and expected to be released within the month.

The guidelines are meant to encourage preachers, who have been involved in confrontations outside the Salt Lake Temple, to behave more "courteously," according to Anderson, a former civil rights attorney.

Freedom of speech has been a key issue in the ongoing debate over the pedestrian mall outside the Mormon temple.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers the stretch of land private property, contending it should be able to impose restrictions on behavior. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of church-imposed restrictions and has asked for an injunction to restore free speech rights on the plaza while the case is being considered.

The new guidelines warn that the right of free expression is not absolute and that "some kinds of speech, such as obscenity, defamation, and fighting words, are not protected by the First Amendment."

An example of fighting words, Anderson said, might be calling a woman a "harlot" after she exited the temple in the presence of her children and husband.

Fighting words are personal insults that are directed at a particular person or small group, are likely to create a violent reaction and that "play no role in the expression of ideas," according to the guidelines.

But courts have been tolerant of speech even when it is "extremely annoying or offensive" to listeners, it goes on to say.

Anderson suggested that people who are offended should simply walk away and ignore what is being said.

"This is what comes with a free society," he said. "The First Amendment really isn't there to protect speech or activities that are pleasing to everybody."


Related

ACLU sues Salt Lake City over Main Street plaza access

Lawsuit asks federal court to return control of disputed block to city, which last week signed it over to the Mormons. 08.08.03

Salt Lake teens get First Amendment lesson at Main Street Plaza
Students had planned to meet ACLU official to hear talk on freedom of speech, but guards at Mormon pedestrian mall told them to leave. 03.27.04

Federal judge OKs buffer zones around Mormon center
Court rejects challenge to Salt Lake City policy, saying no-standing rule applies to everyone, not just street preachers. 12.24.04

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