Federal Appeals Court to Hear Arguments Over Free Speech Rights of Maine Anti-War and Labor Activists

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
November 3, 2006 12:00 am

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MCLU Urges Appeals Court to Reaffirm That “Right to March Lies at the Core of Our Freedoms”

PORTLAND, ME — On Monday in Boston the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit will hear arguments about the constitutionality of Augusta’s free speech restrictions. The Maine Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged the city’s Parade Ordinance and Mass Outdoor Gathering Ordinance, resulting in a December 2005 decision striking down Augusta’s restrictions as unconstitutional.

“All our freedoms as Americans depend on the right to free speech being available to every one of us,” said David Webbert, MCLU cooperating counsel and a partner with the Augusta firm of Johnson & Webbert, LLP. “As the founders understood in enacting the First Amendment, our ability to make wise public policy decisions, such as going to war, will be destroyed if we only hear from the wealthy and well connected.”

The MCLU brought the case in March 2004 on behalf of Timothy Sullivan, one of the organizers of the “March For Truth” in Augusta, which promoted peace, end to war, universal health care and benefits for military families. Sullivan, a resident of Castine, Maine, was charged nearly $2,000 for the permit to hold the march. Larry Dansinger, who was prevented from holding a march for workers’ rights because of the enormous cost of a parade permit, joined the MCLU lawsuit in the fall of 2004.

In the decision under consideration, Hon. John A. Woodcock, Jr. held that “the right to march lies at the core of our freedoms” and “commands this Court’s protection.” The court found that Augusta improperly restricted that right by charging Sullivan a profit surcharge of almost $500 and that the city imposed unjustified conditions on applicants to hold a march, including notice 30 days in advance and an in-person meeting with the Chief of Police. The court also held that Augusta must provide a financial hardship exception to its fee because the right to march must be open to all Americans regardless of income.

“To march is to speak,” said Judge Woodcock in his 51-page opinion. He went on to write: “A march can be a powerful and effective community expression of ethos: to celebrate our heroes-as on Veteran’s Day; to applaud our commonly-held values — as on July 4th; or, consistent with this Country’s longest-held traditions, to protest our policies and attempt to effect change-as in Selma or Washington, D.C.”

“The First Amendment isn’t just for popular speakers and conventional wisdom,” said MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows. “Our founders designed the Bill of Rights specifically for the protection of minority opinions and marginalized voices.”

Judge Woodcock’s decision in Sullivan et al. v. City of Augusta is online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/protest/23280lgl20051222.html

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