After ACLU Intervention, Free Speech Upheld in Florida Parks

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
June 1, 2005 12:00 am

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FL -- The Broward County Parks and Recreation Division has reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of expression, especially the right of all people to speak about politics, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida's Broward Chapter announced today. The chapter had intervened on behalf of two anti-war protesters who were barred from distributing fliers at Easterlin Park, located in the city of Oakland Park.

"Political speech and the First Amendment are alive and well in the parks of Broward County," said Alan Ehrlich, a board member of the ACLU of Florida's Broward County Chapter and a cooperating attorney in this case.

On Saturday morning, January 15, 2005, Charles Chamberlain and Jody Finvar, of Democracy for America Miami-Dade, finished setting up the table they had paid for at the South Florida Folk Festival in Easterlin Park, and started handing out postcard-sized fliers about an anti-Iraq war protest their group was planning at Bayfront Park in Miami.

Chamberlain and Finvar said that shortly after the festival began, the park manager approached them and told them that it was illegal to talk about politics or distribute political information in a public park. The park manager also told them that they would have to immediately leave the park grounds or face arrest. The pair agreed to pack up their things and leave.

When this violation of civil liberties was brought to the attention of the ACLU, the Broward Chapter took action by obtaining written accounts from Chamberlain and Finvar about what had occurred, and by setting up a meeting with Bob Harbin, Director of Broward County's Parks and Recreation Division. Harbin admitted that the park manager at Easterlin Park "overreacted." He agreed to send letters of apology to Chamberlain and Finvar, and to convene a countywide meeting of Broward County Parks and Recreation Division managers on the subject of the First Amendment and public parks.

That meeting took place in May and, as a result, a memo from Harbin clarifying the policy regarding political speech was issued on May 12, 2005 and distributed to all park managers. The memo makes clear that Broward County Parks are considered "traditional public forums," where a wide range of freedom of expression is permissible. The memo also states that any patron or group visiting a Broward County Park has the right to speak or distribute literature -- even if the subject matter is distasteful, contrary to popular opinion or clearly political.

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