June 7, 2010

Ordinance would violate free speech rights of day laborers, says civil liberties group.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Herndon, VA -- The ACLU of Virginia today informed members of Herndon's Town Council that the organization is prepared to mount a court challenge if the town passes a proposed anti-solicitation ordinance. 

The ordinance prohibits pedestrians from standing on the sidewalks and distributing literature or offering goods and services to the occupants of motor vehicles.

The ordinance also prevents pedestrians from soliciting money from drivers.  Exempt from the ordinance, however, are programs supported by the government, such as firefighters soliciting for charitable causes or public high school students holding car-wash fundraisers.

Earlier today ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg emailed a letter to Herndon officials in which she writes that at least three federal judges have struck down similar ordinances because they infringe on free speech rights without being sufficiently related to the government's interest in traffic safety.  

Glenberg notes that the proposed ordinance would prohibit speech in many circumstances when traffic safety would not be at issue.  For example, it would ban handing a leaflet to the occupant of a lawfully parked car.  It would also prohibit pedestrians from inviting drivers to pull into a parking lot to receive information. 

Herndon's ordinance appears to primarily target day laborers who stand near roads to announce their availability for work.  Most of the town's day laborer population is Latino.

"This ordinance is wrong in every imaginable way," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. "If its purpose is to prevent individuals from soliciting for work, it violates the right of free speech.  If its purpose is to diminish the presence of the town's Latino population, it violates the right to equal protection under the law.  If it has a legitimate purpose, we can't find it."

"If speech directed at the occupants of vehicles really presented a traffic safety problem, then the town would also prohibit solicitations by firefighters and high school car washes," added Willis.  "The fact that speech for governmental purposes is exempted shows that the real purpose of the ordinance is to deny speech to certain groups of people that the town apparently finds objectionable." 

The Herndon Town Council will consider the proposed ordinance at a meeting tomorrow night, when a public hearing is scheduled.

The proposed ordinance can be found online at: acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/20100607HerndonProposedStreetSolicitationOrdinance.pdf

The ACLU's letter to council members can be found online at: acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/20100607HerndonSolicitationLtr.pdf

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