Another Main Street Plaza? ACLU weighs in on proposed sale of Manti street to LDS Church

ACLU Evangelicals Main Street Plaza Manti

Update: Latest reporting from The Salt Lake Tribune: Manti wants to sell street block to LDS Church

Lokai: LDS Church to Censor Christians by Buying Manti Road?

Bele: Anti-Mormons whine to the ACLU about sale of Manti city street to LDS.

Headlines, excerpts and random linkage:

ABC4: Manti could sell block of street to LDS Church

In a move that brings back memories of the battles over the Main Street Plaza in downtown Salt Lake, the Manti City Council is considering offering for sale a block of 1st East and it appears the only interested party is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Deseret News: ACLU expresses concerns about possible sale of Manti street to Mormon Church

“Several years ago the city of Manti approached The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about acquiring a parcel of land adjacent to the church’s Manti Temple,” spokesman Scott Trotter said in an e-mail Wednesday. “The property is now a dead-end road and no longer useful to the city. The church and city are currently in discussions to determine the viability of moving forward with a sale.”

FOX 13: ACLU cries foul on LDS Church proposed Manti Main Street purchase

The American Civil Liberties Union is raising concerns about the proposed sale of a portion of Manti’s Main Street to the LDS Church. The Manti City Council says it is considering selling a public street that bisects property already owned by the church. The ACLU says the street has historically been a thoroughfare used as a public forum for people of all religious persuasions — particularly during the annual week-long Mormon Miracle Pageant.

All religious persuasions? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, historically, it’s been a public forum for one persuasion in particular: Manti Pageant Evangelism 2010

Let the fundie hootin’ and hollerin’ begin: LDS Church to Censor Christians by Buying Manti Road

And finally, the text of the letter here (PDF) and blogger Aaron Shafovaloff’s commentary here.

h/t FOX13’s first-on-the-scene TV reporting and ACLU of Utah

P.S. Regarding the question that the title asks, I’d answer … No, this is not another Main Street Plaza. As far as I can tell, the LDS Church has every right to buy, and it’s down to whether or not the Manti City Council ought to sell. If local residents are in favor, I don’t see any reason why the council shouldn’t.

13 thoughts on “Another Main Street Plaza? ACLU weighs in on proposed sale of Manti street to LDS Church

  1. Chino — I don’t know. I think that a private corporation buying up central public streets (in order to restrict who can be there and what they can say) is a problem. It may well be legal, but it’s starting to look like a rather worrisome/questionable strategy on the part of the CoJCoL-dS. Even if the only group currently using it is the Christian Evangelists (who, as Seth points out, may be hurting their cause more than helping it).

    I don’t have to agree with what everyone is saying — I don’t like to see an area traditionally used for public free speech contracting, and getting privatized. If the city council and the courts say it’s legal, then it probably is, but I’m glad the news is keeping an eye on it.

  2. If the ACLU and local press help draw public attention to how the sale is structured or how the community uses that particular street, I think we agree that such efforts are laudable. That said, at first glance, this doesn’t look to me like “buying up central public streets.” In any case, whether or not yours is an accurate characterization, I’m comfortable leaving it to the locals to make that determination (probably because I’m OK with allowing a different set of considerations to apply in a place the size of Manti than would in, say, downtown Salt Lake City).

    I think we also agree in principle on the importance of protecting public free speech, but judging by what I’ve seen of the property in question, the resulting private holding would be no more a threat to public free speech than any privately-owned gated community, and the harm to First Amendment rights would be no more than what Dr. Laura suffered when she got fired by a privately-owned broadcaster, i.e., nil.

  3. You may be right about the particulars of this case.

    Overall, I don’t like the mall-and-gated-subdivision trend, where people dismiss (or have already forgotten) the value of having a lot of community space that is truly public.

  4. If you leave such questions to the locals then you may end up with the tyranny of the majority. James Madison pointed out in Federalist Paper 10 that the purpose of the federal government is to dilute the influence of local majorities.

    Mormons are so dominant in places like Manti that it is easy for them to roll all over minorities.

    Majoritarianism that is not tempered by the rule of law, i.e. respect for minority rights, is not democracy but ochlocracy, also known as the rule of the mob.

    If the non-Mormon minority is uncomfortable with the loss of public space then the LDS Church would do well to respect the needs of the minority. The city council has an obligation to preserve public space for everyone.

  5. I think the city council’s first obligation is to invite the public in for a discussion of the proposed sale. The ACLU was right to remind the council of this primary duty and the local media seem to be doing a good job of reminding the public of its right to be heard.

  6. I don’t know the particulars, but if it’s as benign as chino says, then whatever. In the end, though, i’m with chason: the idea of the church (any church) owning once public property just is icky to me and i hope this doesn’t become some sort of trend.

  7. Chino (RE #1), one of my favorite episodes ever. ST: Enterprise did their own version not to long ago, same basic idea. So illustrative of the petty squabbles that occupy so much time and energy of humanity.

  8. I’m amazed at the accusations that come from people who haven’t even researched the issue. I’ll respond to just a few.

    First, the article got it wrong. The street in question is 100 East between 400 North and Highway 89. UDOT shut off 100 East’s access to Highway 89 more than a year ago, making the street a dead route to all but two groups: cattlemen, who use the route to take their cattle up the mountains; and people who frequent the LDS Distribution Center or Family History Center, the only properties with access on that street.

    Somebody suggested that he knew a private individual who was interested in setting up a business along the street. This is absurd. The church owns all the property along both sides of the street. Manti taxpayers have to pay for a road that only services the LDS church. Why isn’t anybody concerned about the taxpayers?

    Second, the city approached the church about the sale. It benefits both entities, as the city would no longer have to service a road it doesn’t use and the church would own the final sliver of property among its more than 30 acres on the north end of town.

    Free speech won’t be obstructed. 400 North runs directly in front of the temple, and protesters can gather there as they please during the pageant (as they already do and assuredly will).

    Third, $110,000 is not a small amount in Manti. I’m sure it is in Salt Lake City, but it’s not in Manti. Manti’s entire budget this year is under $4 million. $110,000 is a pretty decent sum of money for this small community.

    Put simply, Manti is not “selling out” to the LDS Church for shady reasons. The road is a burden to the city, and it would benefit the LDS church. No other group, save cattlemen which use the road, stands to benefit from its presence. Cattlemen will find another route.

    Let’s avoid jumping to conclusions before we understand the issue, okay?

  9. Echoing chanson’s reply: Thanks for the information. It’s sad that just because the moniker “Mormon” or the letters “LDS” are attached to something, there are folks who automatically suspect the worst, and usually begin crying “unfair” with out having bothered to do any research whatsoever on the matter. Nice to hear an honest comment from someone who actually lives in Manti.

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