ACLU of South Carolina Defends Free Speech Rights of Drug Policy Reform Group to Disseminate Message at Three Rivers Music Festival

April 15, 2004 12:00 am

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COLUMBIA, SC – The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina today filed a federal lawsuit defending the First Amendment rights of the drug policy reform organization NORML to distribute informational literature and t-shirts at the “Three Rivers Music Festival” taking place here this weekend.

“The organizers of the festival have put unconstitutional restrictions on the political speech of NORML,” said Denyse Williams, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “The First Amendment gives groups the right to peacefully advocate political change in political forums. The ban on NORML is clearly viewpoint-based, which is something the Constitution does not permit.”

The Midlands branch of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) was told that it could have booth or tent space only on the condition that it limit distribution of its material to those who approached NORML’s area, and that it could not actively hand out materials. The ACLU lawsuit noted that this limitation was imposed for the first time this year, even after NORML’s full participation in the event last year, because of the Festival organizers’ specific disagreement with NORML’s political message.

While the Festival puts no limitations whatsoever on commercial speech, it prohibits all non-profit participants from disseminating any materials outside of their respective designated areas. Three Rivers Music Festival President Virginia Bedford issued a memo on April 9 directing non-profit organizations not to “walk around the festival site and approach people attending the festival with the express purpose of handing them printed materials about your organization, the goals of your organization or the purpose of your organization.”

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an immediate ruling before this weekend’s festival declaring that NORML has a right to freely distribute its materials and that the limitations imposed by the Festival organizers are illegal.

“NORML does not condone or advocate breaking the law, but we do advocate changing our nation’s marijuana laws through the democratic process. The materials we hope to distribute at the Festival inform the public about our political views,” said Henry Koch, President of Midlands NORML and a plaintiff in today’s lawsuit. “I realize that some people do not agree with NORML’s message, but that’s no legal basis for censoring our speech.”

The case is Henry Koch v. Fred Monk, et al. The ACLU complaint is online at /node/34985

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