* Rival church sought to pamphlet near Mormon temple

* 'Free-speech' permits can limit time, participants

By Jennifer Dobner

Sept 12 (Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union has sued a Utah city in federal court over a "free-speech zone" ordinance, saying the Orwellian-named measure unconstitutionally requires a permit for almost any form of public expression.

The lawsuit was filed against Brigham City on Tuesday on behalf of the Main Street Church, a non-denominational faith barred under the municipal statute from distributing pamphlets on some sidewalks near a new Mormon temple in town.

Brigham City, a predominantly Mormon town of about 18,000 people, is about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City, the state capital.

The ordinance in question requires any individual or group wishing to stage a demonstration, hand out literature or engage in other forms of public expression to seek a municipal permit establishing an approved "free-speech" zone for that activity.

The permit, if granted, can include limits on the time, place and number of participants. Violations are punishable by civil fines of up to $750 or a misdemeanor criminal prosecution that carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail.

"The overbreadth of Brigham City's 'Free Speech Zone' Ordinance is breathtaking," John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said in a written statement.

"Under this ordinance, you would arguably have to apply for a permit to engage in nearly any speech in the city," he said. "The ordinance could be used to silence anyone, from two friends debating politics on the sidewalk to a missionary handing out fliers."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, asks a federal judge to declare the ordinance unconstitutional and seeks an injunction barring its enforcement.

Attorney Heather White, who represents Brigham City and its officers, declined to comment on Wednesday, saying she had only just begun to read the lawsuit's allegations.

The city said in a statement later in the day that the measure was not intended for "restricting freedom of speech, but for public and protester safety" and was based on other state and local laws believed to have been upheld by the courts.

The ordnance turns all of Brigham City "into a place where free speech, free assembly and free exercise of religion are prohibited until people are granted a special permit designating free speech zones where they are allowed to engage in those activities," the lawsuit alleges.

On Aug. 18, Main Street Church Pastor Jim Catlin sought a permit to publicly distribute religious-themed literature on the sidewalks surrounding a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple during a month-long open house for the new building, according to the lawsuit.

Brigham City officials issued a permit limiting access for Catlin's group between Aug. 21 and Sept. 15 to three areas on lesser-trafficked sidewalks and capped the number of permitted pamphleteers at four, the lawsuit said.

A second application seeking unlimited access to city streets for literature distribution was denied outright by city officials, who cited general security and traffic concerns.

In a written explanation of the city's decision included as an exhibit in the court filing, the city said its initial permit had provided the church with "ample opportunity to communicate with your targeted audience and provides protection to protesters, vehicular traffic and pedestrians."

The letter also states that the city "supports and upholds the First Amendment's guarantee of the right of free expression as a fundamental element of our democratic system of government, and encourages the expression of such speech and discourse." (Reporting by Jennifer Dobner; Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham)

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Alabama State Capitol (Montgomery, Ala.)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

  • Alaska State Capitol (Juneau, Alaska)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Miller)

  • Arizona State Capitol (Phoenix)

    Pictured on Friday, April 23, 2010. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Arkansas State Capitol (Little Rock, Ark.)

    Pictured on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

  • California State Capitol (Sacramento, Calif.)

    Pictured on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

  • Colorado State Capitol (Denver)

    Pictured on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

  • Connecticut State Capitol (Hartford, Conn.)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 1999. (AP Photo/Bob Child)

  • Delaware State Capitol (Dover, Del.)

  • Florida State Capitol (Tallahassee, Fla.)

    Pictured on Monday, Jan. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Georgia State Capitol (Atlanta)

    Pictured on Tuesday, November 13, 2007. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

  • Hawaii State Capitol (Honolulu)

  • Idaho State Capitol (Boise, Idaho)

    Pictured on Monday, Jan. 14, 2008. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • Illinois State Capitol (Springfield, Ill.)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • Indiana State Capitol (Indianapolis)

    Pictured on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

  • Iowa State Capitol (Des Moines, Iowa)

    Pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Kansas State Capitol (Topeka, Kan.)

    Pictured on Thursday, April 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

  • Kentucky State Capitol (Frankfort, Ky.)

    Pictured on Wednesday, April 12, 2006. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

  • Louisiana State Capitol (Baton Rouge, La.)

    Pictured on Monday, Jan. 14, 2008. (Matthew HINTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Maine State Capitol (Augusta, Me.)

    Pictured on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

  • Maryland State House (Annapolis, Md.)

    (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

  • Massachusetts State House (Boston)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

  • Michigan State Capitol (Lansing, Mich.)

    Pictured on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota State Capitol (St. Paul, Minn.)

    Pictured on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • Mississippi State Capitol (Jackson, Miss.)

    Pictured on Thursday, June 10, 1999. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

  • Missouri State Capitol (Jefferson City, Mo.)

    Pictured on Friday, Oct. 16, 2000. (Photo credit should read ORLIN WAGNER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Montana State Capitol (Helena, Mont.)

  • Nebraska State Capitol (Lincoln, Neb.)

    Pictured on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 1998. (AP Photo/S.E. McKee)

  • Nevada State Capitol (Carson City, Nev.)

  • New Hampshire State House (Concord, N.H.)

    Pictured on Friday, Dec. 28, 2001. (Todd Warshaw//Pool/Getty Images

  • New Jersey State House (Trenton, N.J.)

    Pictured on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

  • New Mexico State Capitol (Santa Fe, N.M.)

  • New York State Capitol (Albany, N.Y.)

    Pictured on Sunday, March 16, 2008. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images)

  • North Carolina State Capitol (Raleigh, N.C.)

    Pictured in 1930. (AP Photo)

  • North Dakota State Capitol (Bismarck, N.D.)

    Pictured on Thursday, April 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)

  • Ohio Statehouse (Columbus, Ohio)

    Pictured on Tuesday, March 8, 2011. (Photo by Mike Munden/Getty Images)

  • Oklahoma State Capitol (Oklahoma City)

    Pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • Oregon State Capitol (Salem, Ore.)

    Pictured on Friday, May 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)

  • Pennsylvania State Capitol (Harrisburg, Pa.)

    Pictured on Thursday, June 28, 2012. (BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Rhode Island State House (Providence, R.I.)

    Pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 1945. (AP Photo)

  • South Carolina State House (Columbia, S.C.)

    Pictured on Monday, Jan. 21, 2008. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

  • South Dakota State Capitol (Pierre, S.D.)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Doug Dreyer)

  • Tennessee State Capitol (Nashville, Tenn.)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 1941. (AP Photo)

  • Texas State Capitol (Austin, Texas)

    Pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011. (MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Utah State Capitol (Salt Lake City)

    Pictured on Thursday, March 15, 2001. (GEORGE FREY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Vermont State House (Montpelier, Vt.)

    Pictured on April 9, 1953. (AP Photo/Francis C. Curtin)

  • Virginia State Capitol (Richmond, Va.)

    Pictured on Wednesday, May 2, 2007. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

  • Washington State Capitol (Olympia, Wash.)

    Pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

  • West Virginia State Capitol (Charleston, W.V.)

    Pictured on July 2, 2010. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Wisconsin State Capitol (Madison, Wis.)

    Pictured on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Wyoming State Capitol (Cheyenne, Wyo.)

    Pictured on Tuesday, March 6, 2001. (Photo by Michael Smith/Newsmakers)