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Speech rules to alter little on Salt Lake streets

SHARE Speech rules to alter little on Salt Lake streets

There are a few new free speech rules street preachers and others will have to abide by when they take to Salt Lake City's sidewalks this spring.

While the changes come just in time for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' general conference next month, they likely won't change much downtown for conference attendees.

The Salt Lake City Council approved the changes Tuesday by altering the city's ordinance on disturbing the peace after a four-month examination initiated by Mayor Rocky Anderson.

There was apparently little interest in the changes; no one spoke at Tuesday's public hearing either for or against the changes.

"This is just a very minor fine-tuning but I think it's something worth doing," Councilman Dave Buhler said. "Had there been any comment or controversy I would say we need to wait on this. But seeing there was no comment I feel fine moving forward."

Anderson had city attorney Ed Rutan examine the city's ordinances governing free speech after clashes arose between fundamentalist Christian street preachers, who are critical of the LDS Church, and people attending the October semiannual general conference.

Skirmishes erupted after street preachers donned religious clothing considered sacred by LDS members.

Seeing the preachers wear the clothing around their necks was too much for two men who assaulted the preachers and stole the clothing.

But after Rutan's review of eight city ordinances the city attorney recommended changes to only one, the city's disturbing-the-peace law.

The change alters the ordinance to outlaw "acts, gestures and displays" that incite violence or "are inherently likely to cause a violent reaction" or "create a clear and present danger or a breach of the peace or imminent threat of violence."

Previously, the law only outlawed speech that would result in violence.

Still, Anderson and Rutan said the street preachers would not be banned from wearing sacred church clothing around their necks, because that is protected speech, akin to flag burning.

Moreover, such an action is aimed at the broader crowd of LDS members rather than specific individuals. And "fighting words" or words that are "inherently likely to cause a violent reaction," can only be directed at individuals or small groups of no more than four, according to various federal court rulings.

So any speech or display aimed at the conference masses would be considered free speech, according to Rutan and deputy city attorney Boyd Ferguson.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com