Late last year, I posted this bit about a court decision which held that Salt Lake City could not permit the Mormon Church to ban political speech (such as anti-Mormon speech) on property that it had sold to the Church, but over which the City had retained an easement. I promised to comment on the case in more detail, but never found the time or the inspiration to analyze the fairly complex legal issues raised by the case. In any event, the case seemed to be of only academic interest because, as I noted, the City was poised to give up its easement in exchange for Church real estate on the other side of town.
Which is what happened. Now, however, legal scholar Bruce Fein, writing in the Washington Times, tells us that ACLU is challenging the real estate swap itself as a violation of the First Amendment. The burden of the ACLU’s claim seems to be that the Church exerted political pressure on the City to advance the deal. The complaint alleges that “By giving into the church’s demands in a way that so directly advances the interests of the church… the city’s actions ‘cross[ ] the line between permissible accommodation [of religion] and impermissible establishment [of religion]… .’ The mayor’s decision to abandon the easement is directly attributable to the pressure applied by the LDS Church and the divisiveness the church threatened the community with if the Mayor did not accede to its demands.”
I don’t think I need additional time or inspiration to comment on this development. As Fein says, “religious adherents and organizations enjoy the same right under the First Amendment to lobby for government action without constitutional taint as does the ACLU. . .All Salt Lake City has done with the sale of its easement is to accommodate the LDS Church mission [in order] to obtain municipal property and a community center. If the ACLU lawyers succeed in [this case], time-honored church-state precedents will be shaken and the voice of religion in politics will become inaudible.”
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