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Preachers spark few fireworks

There's no arrests, and most ignore the street ministers

After literally hundreds of hours of public hearings, City Council debate and enough legal wrangling to fill a season of TV's "Law and Order," this year's meeting of LDS general conference attendees and bombastic Christian street preachers failed to generate much in the way of fireworks.

What isn't known for sure is whether Salt Lake City's newly implemented restrictions governing the access and movement of the street ministers had much, if anything, to do with the reasonable calm.

Most of those attending conference paid little attention to the street preachers' message, although there was plenty of staring and puzzled looks, some laughing, finger-pointing and even some picture-taking.

In the end, no street preachers were arrested. Nor was there a repeat of last October's confrontations by angry conferencegoers that resulted in two arrests.

But a lack of arrests did not equate to a lack of confrontation on Saturday, the first day of the 174th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"There's nothing sacred about these garments boys and girls," street preacher Ruben Israel told Saturday's conferencegoers in a typical exchange.

Israel, while putting ceremonial LDS temple clothes on a plastic mannequin, yelled, "You alone can drink the Kool-Aid of this church. You alone can eat the Jell-O of this church."

There was also some of what seemed to be harmless jawing with police over where the preachers would be permitted to spout. Officers, who kept foot traffic moving past the protest areas and along sidewalks, made no arrests and reported no behavior that even approached an assault or physical altercation.

"The plan worked like it was supposed to," City Attorney Martha Stonebrook said as the sidewalks began to clear about 8:30 p.m.

The only near-problem arose Saturday morning when the preachers took up their posts outside the designated protest zones on a thin strip of sidewalk along the north side of North Temple. The preachers couldn't stand in the designated zone, Israel said, because an artificial stream runs through most of the area. Officers moved the barricades and allowed the group to stand near the street.

Israel only shrugged when asked about the city's plan to keep them securely behind metal barricades and a line of officers.

"It's not the best situation in the world, " he said. "But what can I do. I came here unwanted, unasked for and unwelcome."

Several impromptu debates also took place with fellow Christian groups about whether the street preachers' message and style was too confrontational.

During one two-hour stint, the street preachers also endured a chorus of "send in the clowns" as two men dressed in clown suits spent several hours fervently heckling the street preachers on a host of topics before leaving.

Today, the preachers will be out again, expecting to culminate their effort with a traditional post-conference debriefing at the Golden Corral buffet.

Contributing: Jennifer Dobner; E-mail: [email protected]

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