'Free-speech zone' is halted by court ruling

Activists for animal rights were told they couldn't hand out fliers outside of area
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Animal-rights activists won the right to spread their message during the final two days of Taylorsville's annual city celebration.

During an emergency hearing Friday, the same day the Utah Animal Rights Coalition filed a complaint against the city, Judge Bruce Jenkins ruled in favor of UARC, allowing a temporary restraining order halting the city's use of a "free-speech zone" at the Taylorsville Dayzz festival in Valley Regional Park.

City officials had restricted the activists to an area marked off by yellow tape near the park's parking lot. Attendees might pass by the area on their way to the concession stands.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the first two days of the festival, fewer than five UARC members handed out leaflets at the park. They were warned to limit their activism to the free-speech zone, and on Thursday, Taylorsville police Lt. Ed Spann told the group they would receive citations if they didn't stay in that zone, according to the complaint.

City officials can limit protests and activism to free-speech zones on public land for safety, traffic flow or crowd control when the activists have a history of or potential for violence at an event, according to the complaint.

Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall testified at Friday's hearing that he encouraged the City Council to issue an ordinance this year to allow him to establish free-speech zones. From his experience as 2005 Taylorsville Dayzz co-chairman, Wall said two or three people complained to him about animal-rights activists and he saw a religious group who used bull horns while events were being held.

"It was aggravating people to the point where we thought there could be violence," Wall said of the religious group's message.

But UARC had no violent history, according to Brian Barnard, UARC's lawyer.

At this year's Taylorsville Dayzz celebration, UARC activists greeted passers-by and offered a "Why Vegan?" pamphlet, two members testified. Aaron Lee and Krista Stoker said they engaged those who were responsive and said, "Have a nice day" to those who weren't.

They said there was only one person who complained to them: A mother who, along with her children, was offered a pamphlet. Her young daughter took the paper, but the mother threw it back at the UARC members and said they shouldn't give those out to children, according to Stoker and Lee.

The brochures include photos of cattle, chickens and other livestock in factories and slaughterhouses. One cow pictured hangs upside down after its throat was slit. The materials were given to two or three other children in the company of their parents, Stoker said, noting many people at Taylorsville Dayzz agreed with what they were doing.

Judge Jenkins commented on a nostalgic event of his own activism: When he was a young boy, candidates would pay him a penny for each of their political fliers he would hand out in the park.

The hearing marked the third confrontation in two years between UARC and Utah officials over free-speech issues.

In the first two cases, UARC won the suits, being awarded $16,303 in the first trial and $10,700 in the second for damages and legal fees. Barnard, UARC's attorney, said these hearings keep coming up because politicians have no memory, they don't mind using up taxpayer money and "bureaucrats don't understand the First Amendment."

The hearing temporarily lifted the Taylorsville free-speech zone. There will be another hearing July 7 at the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake to determine whether the city can establish that zone during Taylorsville Dayzz.