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ACLU files suit over Brigham City's Free Speech Ordinance

BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is suing on behalf of a Christian church that claims it was banned from handing out flyers near a Mormon temple in Brigham City.

BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) – The ACLU of Utah files a lawsuit challenging Brigham City’s “Free Speech Zone” ordinance.

According to the ACLU 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.”

The complaint was issued on behalf of the Main Street Church of Brigham City. The church planned on distributing literature during the open house of the LDS Temple in Brigham City. In order to do so, Brigham City Police told the church they needed to apply for a permit for activity on any public sidewalk. Main Street Church did apply for the application, and it was approved, but it came with restrictions. The permit allowed the group to hand out their fliers on the North and South side of the Temple, but not near the entrance or rear of the church.

John Mejia, Legal Director of the ACLU of Utah said, “We have a problem with there being a need for a permit in the first place, but in this particular case the permit prohibited them from being on the public sidewalk on the East and West side of the Temple and it also limits the number of people to four.”

The other problem with the ordinance according to the ACLU is that it imposes civil and criminal penalties for failing to comply.

“If they go out there and start handing out leaflets they could be accused of unlawful protest and be told to leave; if they don’t leave they could be arrested,” explained Mejia.

Brigham City says the purpose the Free Speech Zones isn't to restrict freedom of speech, instead it’s about the public and protestor safety. A statement reads, "To Brigham City's knowledge this ordinance has been upheld as constitutional by the courts.”

The ACLU disagrees, “This ordinance violates their right to speech, their right to assemble and their right to practice religion freely."

The ACLU has applied for emergency relief. Their case will be heard in front of a federal judge Friday. The judge could decide to suspend the ordinance so the Main Street Church of Brigham City could protest on all public sidewalks.

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