The Salt Lake City Council
has amended its ordinance on disorderly conduct after an incident last October when a man headed to the LDS General Conference became incensed by a "street preacher" who was yelling at passing LDS members that they were going to hell, weren't Christians, etc. This harassment included waving around a woman's LDS temple garment, which is sacred to members of the church as a symbol to them of the covenants they make with God in their temples. For this slob to be waving such garments at passing women and sneering at their beliefs, however, was treated as his First Amendment right by the city's mayor, Ross "Rocky" Anderson, whose career heretofore was litigating civil rights claims.
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.
It should be noted that the "assault" consisted of grabbing the garment and pulling it away from the man who was desecrating it, which was also charged as theft.
Mormons are taught to ignore such indignities by anti-LDS "preachers" who regularly paphleteer, yell through bull horns at passersby and try to disrupt wedding parties trying to take photos outside the temple.
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.
This may be an accurate statement of First Amendment law, but it is nonetheless despicable behavior, akin to wearing minstrel show black-face makeup or a white hood outside an NAACP convention. I wonder if Anderson would be in favor of waving Confederate battle flags and yelling "nigger" at passing black people on the street.
The harassing behavior of these so-called preachers which is being defended by the mayor is not preaching or testifying. It's not even debate. It's an attempt to annoy and intimidate Mormons and make it unpleasant for them to attend General Conference. When did this childishness acquire Constitutional dimensions? When did we give up the right to go into public places without being assaulted verbally, accosted by ever more aggressive panhandlers and people who should be in secure facilities? When did democracy lose the power to insist on standards of behavior in our common areas?
More and more it occurs to me how simple it is to frame every issue in terms of liberty and inalienable rights (or their penumbras). It's a Pavlovian American response. Liberty=righteous indignation, but that's not what this country was about, everybody shutting up while the loudest and fringiest monopolize everything and shout everybody else down.
We see it everywhere, and hear it everywhere. Liberals are only just getting to feel what the rest of us have been putting up with for the past 40 years, as conservatives gained access to the one public space that the liberals had overlooked, AM talk radio. Rush Limbaugh started giving them a dose of their own poison, and a vast neglected market responded, instantly recognizing the arrogance, the anger, the patronizing and condescension. Now what passes for discussion is yelling, insults, childish bickering and vituperation; and the nation is split right down the middle.
Hugh Nibley made the point some time ago that what we need to fear more that wholesale tilts to the left or right is polarization, an abandonment of the middle ground of tolerance and civility until we all occupy camps at the extremes. What I see happening today is a determination to make the commons into a no-man's land, a place we only go through to get somewhere safe, rather than a destination, a place we share peacefully with respect and consideration. There is such a thing as evil, but it doesn't lie across the straight and narrow path to perfection. Rather it infests the side roads, the mists and marshes, the dens, dark woods and cliffs without fences. We shouldn't be making the center so difficult to walk along.