ACLU of Georgia Challenges City and County Ordinances Restricting Free Speech During G-8 Summit

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
May 3, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Georgia
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

GLYNN COUNTY, GA– The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit today challenging sweeping restrictions on free speech enacted by local authorities in anticipation of the G-8 Summit scheduled to take place on Sea Island June 8-10. The complaint, brought against City of Brunswick and Glynn County officials, was filed in federal court in Brunswick on behalf of local minister Zack L. Lyde and groups planning protest activities around the Summit.

“”Some public officials seem to think that the Constitution has changed, that our right to dissent – our fundamental right to speak out – no longer exists,”” said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “”They are incorrect.””

The city and county ordinances, which were collectively drafted based upon recommendations of the G-8 Legal Subcommittee, share several problems, according to the ACLU lawsuit. First, they require small groups, in some cases even a single person, to apply for a protest permit.

“”Requiring small groups of protesters to obtain a permit is both unnecessary and illegitimate,”” said ACLU of Georgia Legal Director Gerry Weber, “”Case law dating back to the 1930s makes it clear that permits can only be required for large groups where local officials may reasonably require notice.””

Second, the ordinances require that demonstrators release the government from any potential lawsuit or claim, even if government officials are found directly responsible for injuring a protestor. “”This attempt to absolve the government of any potential wrongdoing is legally dubious and an invitation to abuse,”” Weber said.

The ordinances further require that protest organizers cover all costs the government claims are associated with a demonstration. “”This is perhaps the most troubling provision of all,”” Weber said. “”The government has effectively instituted a tax on free speech.””

Finally, the ordinances contain overly vague standards for the denial or revoking of a permit, including interfering with “”commerce,”” “”traffic,”” “”privacy”” or “”property.””

“”Certainly the government has an obligation to step in if a problem occurs,”” Weber said. “”The government cannot, however, refuse to grant a permit based upon ambiguous standards and unfounded assertions of what might transpire.””

The ACLU lawsuit asks the court to halt enforcement of the ordinances because they unconstitutionally restrict free speech.

The ACLU said it anticipates filing similar lawsuits against the City of Savannah and Chatham County, which have enacted similar ordinances. The ordinances were modeled after a 2003 law enacted by Augusta/Richmond County in anticipation of protests by National Council of Women’s Organizations chair Martha Burk. Represented by the ACLU of Georgia, Ms. Burk won her appeal of that ordinance in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.

A copy of the complaint can be viewed online at /node/34981.

The Martha Burk decision can be viewed online at www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions.

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