ACLU Partners With Tea Party In Obtaining Halt To Library Policy Restricting Freedom Of Speech

May 4, 2011 12:00 am

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Local Advocates Of All Stripes Take A Stand For The First Amendment And The California Constitution

In April, following months of lively debate, city officials in the town of Redding, California, adopted a policy that restricts leafletting in the plaza in front of the Redding Municipal Library. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which challenged the policy on the ground that it violates the First Amendment and the California Constitution, today obtained a temporary restraining order from the Superior Court against enforcement of the policy.

The ACLU-NC partnered with the local Tea Party, which filed a parallel law suit.

“The library is a cultural and intellectual cornerstone of the Redding community, and civic leaders should welcome and celebrate the library’s role as a public place for the free exchange of ideas,” said Attorney Thomas Burke of the firm Davis Wright Tremaine, co-counsel in the case.

The “Outdoor Public Forum Policy” requires people who wish to leaflet to obtain a permit, prohibits more than one organization from leafleting at one time, bans the distribution of materials requesting charitable contributions, restricts leafleteers to a designated “free speech” bubble, contains vague and overbroad prohibitions against offensive utterances, gestures and displays, and prohibits leafleting in the library parking lot. If the policy is allowed to stand, individuals who violate these restrictions can be charged with a crime.

“The new policy interferes with the fundamental right to speak freely and peacefully, and is totally unnecessary. There has been no history of aggressive or otherwise problematic incidents in the library plaza,” said John Oertel, a leader of the Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Chapter of the ACLU, and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Shortly before the policy was adopted, ACLU members leafleted in the library plaza. Tea Party members were present at the same time, and while the groups often take different positions on political issues, their simultaneous presence caused no disruptions.

“These exchanges are a direct form of democracy – we need more of them, not fewer. People across the political spectrum have a stake in preserving our right to express our ideas and perspectives,” added ACLU member Don Yost, who is chair of the ACLU Chapter and also a plaintiff.

“We are thrilled to be working with the Tea Party to protect free speech rights and defend the robust exchange of ideas in both principle and practice,” said ACLU-NC attorney Linda Lye.

Defendants in the lawsuit are the City of Redding, Redding City Council, and Library Director Jan Erickson. The ACLU, along with Yost and Oertel, are plaintiffs in the case.

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