A state judge has upheld the Deseret News' right to refuse to run a drawing of a local religious leader that depicts him as Jesus Christ.
Third District Judge Homer F. Wilkinson on Tuesday dismissed a suit filed in April against the Newspaper Agency Corp. by Israel K. Malupo, leader of the World Peace Movement of America.After a brief hearing, Wilkinson concluded that forcing newspapers to run certain advertisements would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.
"I'm very pleased with the decision," Deseret News Publisher Wm. James Mortimer said. "It affirms a newspaper's First Amendment right to control its content."
Malupo, a Polynesian leader of a local movement, sought in September 1990 to run an ad in the two local daily newspapers along with a drawing that depicted Malupo as Jesus Christ.
The ad urged people to call and join the movement.
The Salt Lake Tribune ran the ad with the drawing, but the Deseret News published only the text.
When the NAC, the advertising and circulation agency for the Deseret News and the Tribune, later required that ads in some parts of both papers be identical, the ads ran without pictures in both papers.
Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard contended the NAC's refusal to run Malupo's drawing violated state and federal civil rights laws. It amounted to religious discrimination, Barnard told the judge.
But NAC attorney Sharon Sonnenreich argued that compelled access to a newspaper violates the First Amendment.
She cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Miami Herald in which the court said that government - including courts - could not mandate the content of newspapers without violating the First Amendment.
"Woven into the fabric of the First Amendment is the unexceptionable, but nonetheless timeless sentiment that `liberty of the press is in peril as soon as the government tries to compel what is to go into a newspaper,' " Justice Byron White wrote in the opinion.
The NAC submitted that ruling and other similar court decisions to Wilkinson in a written brief.
Wilkinson told the attorneys he was persuaded the NAC was right before the hearing began. Brief oral arguments only reinforced that opinion, he said.
Applying state civil rights laws to a newspaper's content compromises the First Amendment, he concluded.
"We intend to appeal the ruling," Barnard said in a later interview. He said state and federal laws have been passed prohibiting sex discrimination in help-wanted ads.
"Clearly some state and federal laws have placed restrictions on newspaper advertising. If the laws can prevent gender discrimination, it can clearly prevent religious discrimination."