Utah high court hears appeal of group arguing that refusal to run ad is a rights violation
UTAH — The Utah Supreme Court in early December heard the appeal of a religious group that claimed a newspaper that refused to run an advertisement featuring a picture of a dark-skinned Jesus violated its civil rights. In 1992, the Third District Court in Salt Lake City dismissed the suit the World Peace Movement of America brought against the Newspaper Agency Corporation (NAC), which publishes the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and ordered the group to pay the NAC $17,037 in attorneys fees.
The Tribune printed the ad twice in 1990 and the Deseret News printed it twice without the picture. Later, the NAC refused to run the ad again, the AP reported.
The religious group’s founder, Israel Malupo, claimed that the Mormon Church-owned Deseret News refused to print the ad because it offended publisher William James Mortimer, stated the AP.
In an affidavit, Mortimer confirmed that the ad offended him and added that he did not want the picture printed because it also may offend the religious beliefs of his readership.
The religious group’s appeal argues that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press do not allow the NAC to exempt itself from compliance with the Utah Civil Rights Act, which requires that business establishments make goods and services equally available to persons regardless of religion.
NAC attorney Sharon Sonnereich argued that no law forces newspapers to accept advertising, and that the First Amendment guarantees newspapers the right to decide content. She added that the NAC and its publications believe in Malupo’s right to his beliefs, but that the Deseret News does “not have to say it for him,” reported the AP.
Michael Patrick O’Brien, another NAC attorney, stated that the previous publication of the ad, with and without the picture, fulfilled the news organization’s obligations to Malupo and his group.