So the ACLU fell on the losing side of a federal judge’s gavel. As a follow-up to its first legal victory over the LDS Church’s purchase of Main Street, its second act was to claim that Salt Lake City favored The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and violated the First Amendment, when it capitulated to a swap exchanging a public easement for the now famous “4.5s”—$4.5 million in cash, plus 4.5 acres for a west-side community center.
How surprising. Not because deciding U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball is himself LDS. No, it’s because Kimball’s decision falls in line with so many recent events inside and outside our nation’s borders.
Predictably, LDS Church-owned Deseret Morning News called plaintiffs’ concerns about the city’s deal “religious conspiracy claims.” Predictably, the church attorney Alan Sullivan was elated, stating in an Associated Press report that it would help the church maintain the plaza as “an oasis of peace and beauty ...a place that everyone can enjoy.”
That doesn’t jibe with troublemakers like plaintiff Lee Siegel, who rightly noted that we live in a state that carries, as he told the AP, an “unhealthy allergy to dissent.” How right he is. But the clash between those who can handle open dissent in society and those who want “an oasis of peace and beauty” without questions or challenges to power extends far beyond state lines. Consider:
& ull; After her photograph of flag-draped coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq made the newspapers, aircraft company employee Tami Silicio loses her job. Photographing caskets of war dead, you see, riles our nation’s Defense Department, which outlawed the practice in 1991. War’s costs are too harsh for naÃ¯ve American eyes.
& ull; Both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney don’t want anyone sniffing around key documents of their secret energy task force. In no faint echo of Richard Nixon, they’re claiming “executive privilege” before the U.S. Supreme Court. And what about the duo’s testimony before the 9/11 commission, hidden from public view? How is it that the two most powerful people in the world enjoy such a low level of accountability?
& ull; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thought nothing of confiscating and erasing the recordings of two Mississippi reporters who taped his comments to a high school class. Under public pressure, he later apologized.
& ull; In perhaps the most egregious example of all, we taught Iraqi Shias a valuable lesson in free speech by, of all things, shutting down cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s newspaper, Al Hawza. Censoring al-Sadr, of course, did nothing to preserve “public order,” the stated purpose behind shuttering the newspaper. Just as street preachers gleefully poured salt in the LDS Church’s wounds by descending on the plaza after the church lost its battle to control behavior it deemed “offensive,” al-Sadr’s followers answered with protests, followed by open gunfire. “We thought the censor had gone forever,” wrote Basim al-Sheikh, editor of Baghdad’s independent Al-Dustour. “But it seems he is still here.”
Such is the cost of maintaining “an oasis of peace and beauty.” It’s a wonderful place where soldiers’ coffins aren’t seen, documents aren’t read, and Iraqis battle their “liberators” for a free press.