ACLU of Louisiana Lawsuit Causes Repeal of Laws that Threatened Local Free Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
April 21, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW IBERIA, LA — Reacting to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, city officials here have repealed a series of laws that violated the free speech rights of individuals seeking to protest on public property.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of local resident Ernest L. McGee after the city threatened him with arrest because he did not have a “valid parade permit or a permit for a public assembly.”

“The city’s permit scheme had a chilling effect and served to restrain free speech — the first principle of individual liberty — in a public place,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Facing a court date in October, officials finally came to their senses after refusing to repeal the illegal ordinances prior to litigation.”

According to the ACLU lawsuit, the controversy arose when McGee was peaceably demonstrating alone with a sign on public land close to a public highway on September 13, 2001.

McGee was protesting newly enacted gun sale policies at K-Mart following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While he was standing on public land, four New Iberia police officers approached McGee and informed him that he did not have a valid parade permit or a permit for a public assembly. The officers threatened him with arrest if he did not stop his picketing.

The ACLU’s lawsuit cited the ordinances as unconstitutional on their face and as applied. ACLU attorneys also asserted the ordinances were vague and/or overbroad by:

  • Applying a parade ordinance to a single person.
  • Failing to give reasonable notice of the activities that require a permit.
  • Failing to provide guidelines to the issuing official to determine whether an assembly permit should be issued and whether insurance should be required.

The ACLU further contended that the $5.00 fee for a parade permit operated as a prohibited tax on the exercise of free speech.

The lawsuit had asked the court to declare Ordinances 74.5, 74-146, 74-161 and 74-162 unconstitutional. The city repealed the ordinances in question on April 1, 2003, with an effective date of April 20, 2003.

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