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LINCOLN – The City of Lincoln has dropped charges against Larry Ball, a 77 year old Navy veteran who was ticketed for distributing religious pamphlets outside of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in March. On May 30, by motion of the City Prosecutor, Lancaster County Judge Thomas Fox dismissed the case with all court costs charged to the City.
Joel Donahue, Staff Attorney for the ACLU, said the dismissal of charges is consistent with court rulings in other parts of the country. "Courts have consistently ruled that even if a public arena is managed by a private entity, it is still public property. The city should welcome pamphleteers, demonstrators and others engaging in free speech activity at the arena."
"Our client and all individuals of any faith or political persuasion have the right to express their views on any subject in public," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "In dropping the charges, we hope the City of Lincoln has acknowledged the right of all residents to communicate ideas on a public sidewalk. We urge the city to quickly develop a policy that clearly acknowledges the plaza sidewalk is an open free speech zone in order to prevent any future arrests. Meanwhile, we stand ready to take any complaints of censorship at the Arena sidewalk."
ACLU attorney Alan Peterson has offered to assist the City of Lincoln in crafting clear guidance to residents of Lincoln regarding rights of individuals to participate in free speech activities around the arena.
Larry Ball is a father of four who says becoming a Christian four decades ago saved his life and marriage. He shares the story that saved his life by producing pamphlets that he distributes in public areas.
"Telling others my story is such a big part of my life," said Ball who celebrated his 77th birthday on Monday. "I am thrilled that the city will stop interfering with my right to simply share my faith with others. Venues like Memorial Stadium have clear policies – something the city should be doing with the Pinnacle Bank Arena. And the state Capitol and county city buildings have no history of interfering with free speech in their sidewalks and approaches. The Arena area is a great place to be part of the so-called "market place of ideas," where people offer but do not force various opinions on each other. In fact, the whole newly developed area ought to be thought of as the "Haymarket Place of Ideas!"