City of Fort Lauderdale Settles After Unconstitutional Ordinance Banning Free Speech is Struck Down

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 16, 2007 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Protesters’ Free Speech Rights Preserved

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Broward Chapter welcomed Federal Judge K. Michael Moore’s ruling in favor of the ACLU and other coalition partners on Fort Lauderdale’s unconstitutional ordinance that attempted to stifle free speech. The May 14, 2007 order, which grants the parties settlement, follows an order directing the City to no longer enforce the ordinance.

The “sticks and stones” ordinance, as it has come to be called, was enacted prior to the Organization of American States (OAS) meeting that took place in early June 2005 at the Broward Convention Center. The protesters’ first amendment right to free speech was violated when the City passed the ordinance limiting the number of demonstrators, restricting the objects and signs they could carry, and creating a mile-wide security perimeter – or free speech zone – to prevent them from protesting near the OAS meeting.

“This ordinance was an overbroad attack on First Amendment rights of Americans and was struck down accordingly,” said Zeina Salam, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “Preventing the City of Fort Lauderdale from limiting the issuance of permits for public assembly on the street is a clear victory for free speech and we are pleased with the outcome.”

In an attempt to prevent large protests such as those seen at the 2003 FTAA events in Miami – resulting in seven lawsuits by the ACLU – the City unconstitutionally prevented protesters from having their voices heard. Cardboard signs that were deemed too thick were prohibited along with myriad items such as water balloons, spray paint cans and sticks used to hold up signs.

“Hopefully this will be a swift end to a situation that should never have occurred in the first place,” Salam added.

Particularly disturbing was the City’s desire to demonstrate religious preference by creating an exception to the ordinance for religious gatherings, said the ACLU. “Allowing certain people to exercise their First Amendment rights while limiting the free speech of others is a type of government censorship we cannot allow to exist in our democracy,” said Brandon Hensler, ACLU of Florida spokesman.

A link to the original release can be found at: www.aclufl.org/news_events/?action=viewRelease&emailAlertID=1075

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