Kurt Van Gorden, a Southern Baptist pastor, has been distributing Bible tracts in downtown Salt Lake City for 26 years. And as head of Utah Gospel Mission since 1979, Van Gorden has managed four full-time mission workers who regularly distribute Christian literature on sidewalks around Temple Square.
With more than 5 million visitors per year, the square has been Utah's top tourist attraction for years. Gorden says the mission sees 30 to 35 Mormons place their faith in Jesus every year.
In 1999 the church paid the city $8.1 million to close a portion of Main Street and connect the main LDS administration building and Temple Square. While allowing an easement for public access on the sidewalk, the agreement restricted such activities as loitering, picketing, begging, using tobacco, and distributing literature.
First Amendment dispute
The American Civil Liberties Union sued a year ago, and a district court ruling upheld the free speech limitations. The ACLU appealed, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the case.
Van Gorden returned to West Church Plaza last April and began evangelizing during the LDS semiannual General Conference. But LDS security guards told Van Gorden, 48, to leave the grounds or stop passing out literature.
Van Gorden countered that he had a First Amendment right to pass out tracts. The security guards called police, who handcuffed Van Gorden, put him in jail for several hours, and fingerprinted him. The city prosecutor did not file charges.
In October a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court overturned the lower court, saying that the city's restrictions "virtually ban speech." Van Gorden, who lives in Victorville, California, immediately drove 600 miles all night to pass out more tracts the ...1