Protest law taken on by hunger action group

By By Arthur Raymond

By Arthur Raymond

The Anti-Hunger Action Committee filed a lawsuit in federal court last week challenging an ordinance that places new limits on protests in residential neighborhoods.

The law, passed by the Salt Lake City Council earlier this month, bans protesting within 100 feet of the residence being targeted.

The legal action is the latest in a string of events that trace back to protests outside the homes of U researchers conducted by animal-rights activists from the Utah Primate Freedom Project, a group led by students who hope to end medical experimentation on animals.

U administrators lobbied the city council to pass the measure because spokespeople said researchers felt threatened by the rowdy protests.

Under the new ordinance, the Salt Lake Anti-Hunger group, which advocates for issues that affect low-income residents, would be banned from an annual demonstration at the Governor’s Mansion during the holiday season that involves singing satirical Christmas carols.

Bill Tibbitts, director of the committee, said he was upset at the lack of opportunity for public comment and wants the city to “slow down and look at the issue more closely.”

The group has retained Salt Lake attorney Brian Barnard, who successfully represented them last year in a dispute with the state over leafleting at the Capitol Building.

“The ordinance was poorly thought out and was a knee-jerk reaction (to the Utah Primate Freedom protests),” Barnard said.

Barnard sees the council’s decision as a response to pressure from the U.

“The U says, ‘jump,’ and the council asks, ‘How high?'”

City Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said the pressure on the council to act quickly on the issue probably had more to do with the particular districts in which the protests occurred than with pressure from the U.

“Sometimes it’s about who you know,” said Saxton, indicating that complaints from eastside neighborhoods were fielded by the council.

Saxton, who voted against the ordinance, voiced concern about the new limits imposed by the ordinance. She represents District Four, an area in which no protests occurred.

“I’m personally uncomfortable with it. I’ve protested?and feel strongly that it is a protected right,” she said.

Councilman K. Eric Jergensen represents District Three, where protests by Utah Primate Freedom took place.

Jergensen voted for the ordinance and believes it was an appropriate response to “preserve peace in private residences.”

When asked to comment on the speedy legal response by the anti-hunger group, Jergensen said the ordinance was “constitutionally defensible.” He also dismissed the idea that the city council’s action was a result of pressure from the U.

Activists from the Utah Primate Freedom Project have demonstrated outside the homes of U researchers more than a dozen times in the last year.

U student Jeremy Beckham, leader of the Utah Primate Freedom Project, said he is unconcerned with the new ordinance and will obey it while it is being appealed. He said his group is finding new ways to advocate for their issues.

A press release from the group promises that “activities will resume and increase during the Fall Semester at the University of Utah.”

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