First Amendment freedoms to collide at the Conference Center

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Twice a year hundreds of people gather outside of the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City — not to attend sessions but to either protest or sing.

Protesters against the LDS faith gather to share their opinions, and some members of the Church gather together to sing hymns while their fellow members file into the Conference Center. The Salt Lake City police department and city chair protect both groups’ freedom of speech. The First Amendment allows both the protestors and the members of the Church to freely express how they feel.

Ryen Schlegel, the Salt Lake City special event coordinator, issues permits to protestors and the Church every year prior to the LDS General Conferences.

“Basically, freedom of speech is a First Amendment right,” Schlegel said. “You have a right to be able to protest, and you don’t necessarily need a permit to do so. But getting a permit secures your spot and makes it official.”

In order to buy a permit for a specific location the protestors or organization must apply, pay $5 and have their protest or presentation reviewed by the city committee, which decides whether or not to issue a permit. The police department sits on the board and seeks to protect protestors’ freedom of speech. If a group is granted a protesting permit, it has the right to be at the designated spot.

“You don’t need a permit, but it is a simple way to manage the protests,” Schlegel said.

Schlegel also debunked a Mormon myth about whether or not other faiths have purchased protest spots in the past so the Church will not face as many protestors.

“Blocking other people from getting a permit to express their opinion is illegal,” Schlegel said. “If you said you are going to be at the spot you registered for, you have to be there, or else it is illegal.”

Every year the Church also receives permits for areas around the Conference Center. The Church uses its protest areas for stakes all around Utah to have the opportunity to participate in hymn-singing. Matthew Robins, stake choir director for the Alpine Young Single Adults Stake, has participated in these singing events twice.

“When we were singing we had people walking through us and all around us,” Robins said. “Protestors were all shouting at us, but you can’t hear the traffic or the protestors — only the hymns being sung. There is a huge interaction between those singing the hymns and the protestors — but the hymns are a stark difference to the voices of the protestors.”

The Church takes every spare spot where protestors don’t set up. Protestors are usually on the left of the north visitor center at Temple Square, and the hymn singers are on the right.

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