Bill aims to stop street preachers

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    By Mark Wilcox

    Street preachers at general conference in Salt Lake City may face stiffer penalties due to a bill that has progressed to the Utah House floor.

    The bill, HB 131, would make it a class B misdemeanor for street preachers to knowingly come within eight feet of another person to ?obstruct, detain, hinder, impede or block? anyone entering a place of worship or health care facility. This includes distributing handbills or leaflets and displaying a sign or object. It will also be illegal to educate or counsel another person or engage in oral protest.

    Also under this bill, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who believe they have been approached in such a way will be able to seek a court injunction and sue for civil damages.

    Because of a similar Denver law upheld by the Supreme Court in 1993, the bill has a low probability of being considered unconstitutional.

    Provo City Councilman Paul Warner has seen the protestors at general conference and disagrees with their message, but he thinks they have their rights too.

    ?[Protesting] gives people a chance who are in a minority position to express themselves,? he said.

    Warner also said these people might be getting pushed into a corner they shouldn?t necessarily have to be in.

    ?Sometimes we try to control too much,” he said. “That?s been my experience city council-wise.”

    Other LDS members disagree with the protesting at general conference, but still see both sides of the issue.

    ?It?s bothersome and annoying to members of the [LDS] church,? said Landon Budge, a BYU student and member of the LDS Church. ?But I suppose it?s their right to do that.?

    Budge said as long as the First Amendment is not violated, additional restriction on the street preachers would be preferable.

    However, not all street preachers are there to disrupt general conference.

    Standing Together, an Evangelical ministry devoted to sharing Christ?s love, has made a significant effort during the last two general conferences to stand outside and respectfully greet members of the LDS Church and welcome them to conference, said Eric Ryan McHenry, ministry associate for Standing Together.

    ?We felt that the actions of the street preachers has not reflected the greater heart [of the Evangelical community],? he said.

    McHenry said some of these actions, such as rudeness, name-calling and stomping and spitting on temple garments do not reflect Christ?s love in any way. He also referred to 1 Corinthians 13:1 in describing the futility of these people?s efforts.

    ?The thing we?ve been criticized for is criticizing other Christians to make ourselves look good,? he said.

    This is why he felt a good-faith effort to find similarities rather than differences, and to build civility rather than discord was so necessary.

    McHenry said there are four types of Christians. First is the kind that will ?clack?em over the head with the Bible and show them the truth.? He believes this is overkill.

    Second are those who feel there are just two things to avoid in conversation: politics and religion.

    Next are those that have LDS friends, but think they just can?t talk to them about faith.

    Finally, he described the group he belongs to as those with ?convictive civility,? which he regards as a better representation of faith. These are those who recognize differences between religions courteously. He thinks it is a greater sign of respect to acknowledge differences and strengths, but not concede on any level.

    McHenry said Standing Together has received thanks from leaders in the LDS Church on many occasions for their efforts to unite people of different faiths within Utah communities.

    One letter, written by the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 9, 2004 said: ?The Christian Service rendered by you and your associates on Saturday and Sunday was significant and appreciated by many. Your kindness and wishes for an enjoyable conference was an uplifting contrast to those that came to disrupt the spirit of worship and goodwill.?

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