Wednesday, February 09, 2005

...then takes two steps back

The Utah Legislature is considering adopting restrictions on persons who protest at religious events.

Pretty much everyone agrees that this bill is intended to prevent the infamous street preacher Lonnie Pursifull and his ilk from bothering members of the LDS church at the Church's semiannual conferences in Salt Lake City. While I can agree that getting in someone's face and insulting their religion should not be protected free speech, I have a hard time understanding why they should be kept a certain distance away, or prohibited from handing out literature. And I certainly don't believe that they should be held civilly liable if someone doesn't like their pamphlets.

It's somewhat ironic that the basis for this law is a Colorado statute designed to prevent anti-abortion protestors from picketing clinics.

This perhaps explains why the local ACLU is squeamish about challenging the law if the bill passes (another explanation is that the Utah ACLU isn't very keen to take the side of the LDS Church in any dispute). A successful challenge could undercut their precious protections for abortion clinics, and in the ACLU's world, abortion is the most fundamental right of all.

In addition, this bill would be counterproductive anyway, at least for LDS people. The over-the-top antics of the street preachers in previous conferences had wonderful postive effects; they shamed many opponents of the Main Street Deal into supporting the Church's position. What's more, some moderate evangelicals have noted that their "outreach" (read: missionary) efforts to Utah Mormons were essentially destroyed in the angry backlash against Pursifull et al. Mormons who want these people discredited should allow them to speak as loudly as they wish.

When your opponent is making a fool of himself, don't stop him.


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