ACLU of Utah Letter to Manti City Council

Chip Thompson in evangelistic conversation with MormonThe LDS Church wants to shut down the main free speech forum traditionally used during the Manti Pageant. I assume there are some other more legitimate reasons they have for attempting to purchase the land, but I doubt they are sufficient to make the sale reasonable. Or anything less than upsetting.

You can download the PDF of the ACLU of Utah Letter to the Manti City Council¬†here. It is particularly frustrating that the issue so far has received little public attention. I don’t see one online news article about it.

The following transcription is mine:

BY FACSIMILE (435.835.2202)
City Council (c/o the City Library)
City of Manti
50 South Main, Suite 1
Manti, Utah

Re: Proposed Sale of Public Property to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (“LDS Church”)

Dear City Council:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah Foundation, Inc. (“ACLU of Utah”) has been advised that the City of Manti is considering vacating and selling to the LDS Church a portion of public property described as “100 East Street from the north side of the 400 North Street, north to the intersection of 100 East Street and U.S. Highway 89 (approximately 500 North).” We are further advised that this property has historically be designated a public thoroughfare and public forum, in which all people have had the opportunity and right to share their views and opinions on issues of public concern.

Although very little information is available on-line relating to the proposed sale, we have grave concerns about the effect any such sale would have on the First Amendment rights of citizens of the State of Utah and the City of Manti. Those concerns are echoed and amplified by the five (5) complains we have received in just the last few hours objecting both to the sale and to the non-public manner in which prior discussions about the proposed sale have apparently been conducted.

According to an agenda that was posted within the last two (2) days on the City’s website, the Council intends to discuss and potentially decide issues relating to the proposed sale at tonight’s meeting. We strongly urge you to table discussion and decisions regarding the proposed sale until these significant First Amendment issues have been thoroughly considered.

As you may be aware, the ACLU of Utah has litigated these issues in the past. We are happy to meet with you at any time to discuss the important First Amendment rights at stake, as well as any other concerns that you or your constituents may have related to the proposed sale.

Update: See Staci’s blog post

Update #2: News coverage of Manti street issue begins

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30 Responses to ACLU of Utah Letter to Manti City Council

  1. Very interesting article Sharon. It doesn't surprise me at all. – grindael

  2. falcon says:

    Ah yes, it must be because Mormons are being persecuted by the folks exercising their free speech rights. Kind of reminds me of a bunch of guys in a town in Illinois busting-up a printing press because they didn't like what the paper was printing.

  3. olsenjim says:

    Is it illegal for an organization to purchase land?

    Is it wrong for an organization to control land that it owns?

    What is the problem?

    Is there something unethical about the church purchasing land it feels will serve its interests?

    The answers to these questions are the likely reasons nobody is reporting this story.

    The propensity to see a conspiracy in anything and everything is what makes many people crazy.

  4. I'm not aware of all the legal problems or lack thereof, Jim, but I do know that the street that the City is trying to sell to the Church is a traditional, important forum for free speech and interaction.

    The Church is among other things trying to shut its critics up with the strong arm of money. And the city council is, I assume, happy to do it given the loads of money they'll get, and given that the council of full of Mormons. I could be wrong, but those are my working assumptions.

    Take care.

  5. f_melo says:

    Some things never change…

  6. falcon says:

    The enemy of Mormonism is information. When Mormonism is exposed for what it is, a poor counterfeit of Christianity, it negatively effects recruitment and retention efforts on the part of the Mormon church. That a Mormon can't see that the attempts of the Mormon church to buy a piece of public land that is used to counter the cult is not an OK deal is not surprising given Mormonisms history and tradition in such matters. Mormons are known for attacking its critics in some very unseemly ways including personal character assassination. This attempt to buy the land and shut down dissent won't work because Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. Mormonism tries to prevail against God's Church and the mystical Body of Christ in many different ways. The attempts to silence those Christians who are bringing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Mormons will not succeed.

  7. Verne Brown says:

    I see this as a similar tactic used by the lds church to shut down free speech in the temple square area. Control the property – control the message.

  8. olsenjim says:

    Aaron,

    While I see your point, I think it is not unreasonable for an entity such as the church to protect a few places that are sensitive or important to it in this manner. There are plenty of places people can picket or protest the church. I see nothing wrong with trying to limit such activity in places like temple square and a few others. It is not as if the church is strong-arming anybody who speaks against the church- such speech goes largely unresisted elsewhere.

    Just my opinion.

  9. guest says:

    I am more interested in now you right wingers are thankful for the ACLU

  10. setfreebyJC says:

    In the Bible, Joshua's walking-around-the-temple, blow-the-trumpets folks brought down the walls of Jericho (they followed God's directive)
    David's little sling and stones won the victory for Israel (because he understood that God was greater than Goliath)
    Elijah won out against the few hundred prophets of Baal (He was the only one with a real God)
    Gideon's few lamp-holders triumphed over a huge army without having to lift a sword (same thing)…

    In the scenario above, the LDS church is the one with the large numbers and the power (the money, the influence) and yet they are afraid of a few Jesus-lovers on the street.

    It's no wonder – looking from a Biblical point of view.

  11. Jim, thanks for your respectful comment (really). Perhaps you misunderstand the nature of the forum. Very few people have signs, etc. 98% of the communication is done through one-on-one conversations and small group conversations. This is not an issue of critics needing a forum to "picket and protest", but rather an issue of critics wanting to use a traditional forum for substantive interaction with traveling pedestrians (who stop and talk).

    Take care,

    Aaron

  12. Junelle says:

    Anything that is this disruptive and everyone goes mute. All quiet in Manti…

  13. setfreebyJC says:

    I have a friend who participates in a ministry to the Mormons in the Palmyra region. Apparently, Stafford Road was a town road that ran through what used to be the Smith farm, and the evangelicals would stand on that road to engage visitors in conversations and hand out pamphlets. Then, sometime in the last 10 to 20 years, the LDS church bought the Stafford Rd and rerouted it, which made road-crossing safer for their guests, but also just happened to separate the ministry folk from the Mormon visitors.

    My friend also reports that the church rents "up all the town facilities, so that no one else can use the parks or community center. They also pay to rent a public parking lot during the pageant, and then tell us that we cannot come into the parking lot."

    In Manti, we've been told we'd be arrested if we used the (LDS) public restrooms, and of course there are the 'no evangelizing' signs. I know that the Ephraim evangelical community works hard with town officials though, to make sure that we are operating under their (local Mormon authority) standards of conduct.

    On a sidenote, I can't help but wonder who gave the command to make the Manti road purchase

  14. falcon says:

    Here it is. "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
    Mormonism is a totalitarian religion that has no time for dissent. It's been a controlling cult since the days of BY and hasn't changed one bit in regards to its need and desire for control.

  15. setfreebyJC says:

    I've been trying to picture what would happen if the situation were reversed. For instance, what if there were 10,000 or so Christians gathered to watch a presentation (of a story or two from the Bible and a little about the beginnings of Christianity), and a few dozen Mormons showed up to talk about Mormonism outside the event. Would the Christians buy up the piece of property so that the Mormons couldn't come?
    Well, I can't answer for all "Christian" communities, obviously. For one thing, I've never been anywhere near a group of 10,000 gathered Christians for a fun, fantastical, event like the Mormon Miracle Pageant, or for any other reason – perhaps because I live in Utah? I also don't personally know of a Christian group large enough to have that kind of money or power or influence over a City Council.

    But from what I do know – the individual Christians that I've met and what I know of them – well, they wouldn't feel threatened by that. In fact, the Christians that I know would go out in groups of one or two, and speak to one, two, or 50 Mormons at a time, to show the truth of the Bible to them, and give them the real Jesus.

    I'd love it if we could reverse the scenario. Perhaps that's what we should offer here in Utah. A tit-for-tat "you can also come and try to evangelize at our big events" agreement. That scenario starts ringing of "they're persecuting us" before it ever even starts, though.

  16. Ralph says:

    I have been following the last few threads but my computer has been blocking me somehow from replying with a 'timed out' error coming up. So no I haven't melted into obscurity, just having technical difficulties.

    Setfree,

    Here's your mistake. The Christian groups that go to these things are not just evangelising about your gospel, they are also making major moves to show how they think the LDS church is incorrect. Like a year or 2 ago they had women dress up as JS wives. From what I have seen on this site other similar things have happened.

    So to do a role reversal as you indicate it would be like LDS dressing up as say Calvin laughing at someone dressed as Severtus tied to a stake with fake flames coming out of it. Or Luther performing a polygamous marriage for the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, or crying out loud that you can commit adultery and murder every day but still be saved as long as you believe in Jesus. We could possibly include all the atrocities that came about from the Crusades. Things like that would be in order for a role reversal, and I'd bet there are many more examples. Is that what you would welcome to your events?

  17. GeoffW77 says:

    Just a couple of points,

    a. I doubt very much that the land purchase by the LDS Church of the area commonly used by the evangelical groups during the Manti pageant will have much effect on their various "witnessing" activities. The evangelicals will simply relocate their picket stations 50 feet away. This is exactly what happened at the LDS Temple Square.

    b. As a TBM, I am quite happy to see evangelicals picketing LDS events such as pageants and General Conference. The picketers with their bullhorns yelling the "Mormons will go to Hell!" and vile signs (i.e. LDS = Liars, Deceivers, Seducers etc.) are truly offensive. I really doubt that any LDS are persuaded to convert to evangelicalism by such obnoxious tactics. Rather the reverse is more likely the case. Such encounters merely reaffirms the convictions of the Latter-day Saint and underscores the spiritual hypocrisy of the evangelical protesters.

    c. Over the past couple of decades I have noticed an interesting phenomenon whereby these evangelical demonstrators are becoming much more shrill (particularly at General Conference). While many of these evangelicals are relatively decent people there seems to be a growing contingent of really obnoxious individuals (Street Preachers) who are so vile and contentious that they seem to drive most of the other demonstrators away. There is undoubtably some sociological term or phrase for this phenomenon. It would appear that these obnoxious individuals are not at all interested in sharing their faith (whatever that may be) but rather deliberately seek confrontation.

    d. Finally, I really cannot imagine that all of these strident efforts being made by the evangelical groups in demonstrating against the LDS Church has much effect other than to reaffirm and strengthen the faith of Mormons attending such events. This is precisely why I welcome these evangelical demonstrators.

  18. Geoff, to compare Manti Pageant evangelism to the screeching at General Conference or to generalize it as picketing is inaccurate and lacks discernment. 98% of what goes on at the Manti street in question is one-on-one and small group communication (cf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYpE-Gncvps). And the little street preaching that happens (between me and Rob Sivulka) the last few years is pretty tame. Heck, most of the signs that were used before are no longer used. And the local Christians and visiting evangelists have formed a decent relationship with the local LDS leaders; we have even accommodated some of their wishes just to remove unnecessary tension.

    Mormons (and some Christians) really need to slow down and practice some careful discernment instead of caricaturing evangelical stranger-evangelism to Mormons using the worst examples shown by the KJV-only group that shows up at General Conference. I assume you likewise would not want me to caricature the Mormon people or missionaries in such an undiscerning, blanketing way.

    Take care,

    Aaron

  19. jackg says:

    Geoff,

    I agree that the tactics used are not going to win converts. But, in the end, you have to look at what you're believing and judge it for yourself against the biblical text. I believe that if you did that there would be no room for you to believe what JS taught about God that relegates Him to a mere god. I don't think one can use the misguided efforts of others to keep on believing in that which is false.

    Blessings…

  20. jackg says:

    OJ,

    Is it wrong for a church to own people and to control them????

    Praying for you…

  21. setfreebyJC says:

    a- true, the evangelicals will probably just relocate. So why buy the property? To prove who is bigger?

    b- Sounds like a over-generalization. Thankfully, some LDS who have respectful and thoughtful communication with evangelicals begin to understand the Bible, and eventually embrace Jesus' gospel, and become adopted heirs/children of God.

    c- Perhaps there are people who are just out to shout and cause a ruckus. There was an elderly LDS lady at Manti pageant just this year, who shouted (aprox. 50 times in a row) "you're bugging me!" at a man who was trying to read Moroni 10:32 to some other Mormons, until, in fact, those Mormons turned and told her she was bugging them.

    d- Finally, I remember when anything counter-LDS automatically put me on the defensive, and I figured that I too was striving for the church and against the devil. It's unfortunate that the LDS are not better grounded in actual truth, so as to not be afraid of even the most peaceful and loving of confrontations, but are instead taught to hid behind "you're evil for disagreeing!"

  22. setfreebyJC says:

    I think you guys should read this – it is a letter describing the $$ the church put up to get the Main Street Plaza purchase to happen : http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=

  23. olsenjim says:

    Jack,

    Pure rhetoric, again.

    Whom does the church "control" and "own?"

    I can just as easily say the same thing for your church.

  24. setfreebyJC says:

    Ralph,
    I love your mild manner, and how you always search for a plausible defense or counter-example. :}
    That said…
    I can think of at least a couple rebuttals, right off hand. For one, Mormonism claims to have the most and best truth available. As such, they have put THEMSELVES on a pedestal, and asked all the world to prove them wrong.
    Secondly, the church teaches the opposite of factual history – for example the Joseph Smith movie up in Salt Lake showing him to have just one wife, and the Mormon Miracle Pageant showing him dying innocently in the jail, etc. "Christianity" in general, does not seek to hide the less-than-faith-promoting moments in its history, as does Mormonism.
    Thirdly, "Christianity", as we have often discussed, is an over used and mis-appropriated word, that practically means nothing anymore. For example, on facebook I see all my highschool friends labelling themselves as "Christian-LDS" when the truth is that Mormonism was founded on the principal that Christianity as a whole was corrupt and evil, and that older Mormons remember defiantly proclaiming "I'm not Christian, I'm Mormon!". So see… the words "Christianity" and "Christian" mean almost nothing.
    (It's why I like to call myself a Bible-believing born-again Jesus-lover)
    More later…

  25. Pingback: Main Street Plaza » Sunday in Outer Blogness: Funny Stories Edition!

  26. TheGirlwho says:

    I work at FOX 13. We have sent a reporter to Manti to cover this story today. You will see it on Fox 13 News at Nine. It's the lead story as of right now.

  27. Pingback: News coverage of Manti street issue begins | Mormon Coffee

  28. JediMormon says:

    Some folks need to do some research before posting their assumptions. Let me list a few facts:
    1. The road in question is a dead end road. It was closed by UDOT more that a year ago.
    2. The church already owns the property of both sides of the road.
    3. The only folks who use the road now are cattlemen and those who use the church’s Distribution Center or Family History center.
    4. Currently, Manti taxpayers are the one’s who are paying to maintain a road that is only used by those I already mentioned. I’m sure that if the protesters could come up with $110,000 (sale price of the road), they could buy it from the city of Manti.
    5. The idea of selling the road originated from the city of Manti, not the church.
    6. Free speech will not be obstructed. The one-week-per-year protesters can, as they have done for years now, use the other road that runs directly in front of the temple: 400 North street.
    [sentence removed for violating blog policy] It really would make you seem less uninformed.

  29. ann says:

    So what has happened? Did the mormon church buy the road?

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