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With ski masks concealing their faces, animal-rights protesters raised pickets outside the Millcreek home of a University of Utah researcher.

They stood shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk that December day and condemned the scientist as a torturer.

But Salt Lake County soon could stifle such speech.

The state's most populous county will consider curbing political protests that target residents' homes in unincorporated areas, according to a picketing ban proposal Republican Councilman Mark Crockett intends to introduce next week.

"Of course we embrace citizens' rights to protest in public places," Crockett said. "But targeting individual homes is another matter."

The prohibition would come as a political pounding for the Utah-based Primate Freedom Project, which has used the private properties of U. researchers as a platform for their grievances.

Salt Lake City banned home-picketing last summer. The county may follow suit with an ordinance that would preclude protests within 100 feet of a targeted residence.

"We, as protesters, aren't the monsters here," Jeremy Beckham, founder of the Primate Freedom Project, insisted Friday. "What they are doing inside the lab is where the real violence is happening."

The proposed protest ban would trample free-speech rights, Beckham said, and potentially lead animal activists to less-peaceful means of spreading their message.

The U. of U. appealed to Salt Lake City for picketing restrictions last summer and won.

The school announced Friday that it would support similar limits in unincorporated county areas.

Spokeswoman Coralie Alder said demonstrators are welcome on campus, but not at staffers' homes.

"Everyone should be protected from harassment and intimidation in their homes and families," she said.

The County Council will discuss the picketing policy Tuesday. The text - cleared by the District Attorney's Office - is patterned after Salt Lake City's ordinance.

"The last thing we want to do is infringe on general protesting rights," Crockett said. "In the narrowest possible way, we would like to protect individuals from threatening behavior."

Primate Freedom Project officials are taking a dim view of the council's deliberations, while acknowledging that the ordinance probably will pass. But Beckham said it won't stop their campaign.

"[U. researchers] should be exposed for what they do."

On the agenda

The Salt Lake County Council will consider a picketing ban Tuesday during its 1 p.m. committee meeting at the Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State. The proposed ordinance, modeled after a similar Salt Lake City statute, would prohibit protesters from targeting a private residence in unincorporated areas.