LDS Church tells gay rights group to keep off property

Daily Herald,Utah/March 20, 2007
By Alan Choate

A gay rights advocacy group has been told to stay off of all property belonging to the LDS Church -- including tourist sites like Temple Square -- when the group visits Utah this week.

The Virginia-based Soulforce advocacy group has once again organized an Equality Ride in which 50 people tour the country on a bus to highlight anti-homosexual policies at Christian colleges and universities.

Last year, participants were arrested at Brigham Young University. The group is scheduled to start their tour of Utah today and last week Soulforce leaders received a letter from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The riders' itinerary originally included visits to Welfare Square Cannery and Temple Square, sites the church described as "sacred" and "places of peace and quiet contemplation."

"Regardless of the message, no outside person or group is permitted to demonstrate or engage in advocacy there," the letter from the church said. "Groups or persons with a history of demonstrating or protesting are asked not to enter church properties.

"We hope this request will be honored voluntarily without the need for enforcement."

The letter, signed by headquarters facilities director Brent Roberts, suggested Soulforce members use "the wide public sidewalks that exist throughout Salt Lake City."

Soulforce spokesman Brandon Kneefel said the group has activities planned in Utah County but just wanted to be tourists in Salt Lake City.

"We were just going to be sightseeing," he said. "It was going to be kind of a 'Mormonism 101' thing for us.

"They interpreted it as us trying to make a demonstration at one of their largest attractions. That wasn't our intent. That's not our mission."

Members of the group would still be visible, however.

"We'd probably be in our Soulforce gear," Kneefel said, adding that the sightseeing probably would be canceled. "We have a huge bus that advertises who we are and what we're doing."

They have several events planned this week in Utah County.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, the Gay-Straight Alliance chapter at Utah Valley State College will host the bus riders in the campus's Grand Ballroom for a series of presentations.

On Thursday, the group has scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference at Bulldog Boulevard and North Canyon Road to present a "list of concerns" drawn from people connected to BYU, followed by a march around the edges of campus. A 5 p.m. rally at Kiwanis Park will conclude the day.

Last year, riders were removed from BYU's campus and issued citations because they were handing out literature and demonstrating there. BYU officials had previously told the group they could not use the campus as a public forum.

According to news reports, Soulforce riders have been arrested this year at:

Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, for trying to enter a chapel to attend services.

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., as they carried wreaths to a statue honoring an alumnus who was gay.

Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo., for trying to enter the campus.

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