Federal Court Ruling Allows Alaska Library to Reinstall Censored Gay Pride Exhibit

Affiliate: ACLU of Alaska
July 3, 2001 12:00 am

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ANCHORAGE–A federal court judge ruled today that until a trial on the constitutional issues can be held, a “Celebrate Diversity” exhibit on gay pride can be reinstalled in the Loussac Public Library.

The ruling came in response to a legal challenge brought by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union on behalf of numerous local individuals and organizations after Mayor George Wuerch ordered the exhibit removed on June on the grounds that it was “inappropriate.”

“As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, it is great to know that the First Amendment is alive and well in Anchorage, Alaska,” said AkCLU Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger.

“While we recognize that today’s ruling is only preliminary and does not decide the constitutional issues in the case,” she added, “we are delighted that our clients will be able to put their display back up and exercise their rights to free speech.”

After hearing closing arguments from both sides on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge James K. Singleton said today that the groups and individuals backed by the AkCLU have shown that they are likely to prevail at trial on the constitutional issues raised and that they are indeed suffering irreparable harm by being denied the right to put up their exhibit.

The judge said that the witnesses’ testimony indicated that either there was no policy being enforced at the time, or if there was a policy, it was being enforced in an inconsistent manner.

Either situation would be unconstitutional, and rather than force the plaintiffs to continue to suffer the irreparable harm of being silenced, the Judge will order the Municipality to allow the exhibit to be reinstalled.

Rudinger noted that the judge made reference today in his ruling to the additional First Amendment rights being defended by the AkCLU, the rights of the public to receive and view information at the public library. In legal papers, the AkCLU also said that the government is in breach of contract for removing the exhibit after coming to verbal and written agreements that it would be up from June 1-30.

The AkCLU filed its lawsuit in state court on June 13, alleging that the Mayor’s censorship violated not only the rights of the exhibit sponsors (PFLAG, the Metropolitan Community Church, Identity, Inc. and the PrideFest Planning Committee) to display the exhibit but also the rights of the public to view the exhibit and consider the information which it conveyed.

The only difference between the exhibit as it was put up on June 4 and the way it will be put up this week will be the fact that there will not be t-shirts hanging over the elevators to symbolize coming in and out of closets.

AkCLU Cooperating Attorney Allison Mendel explained that the plaintiffs were always willing to compromise and the exhibit organizer was even on her way to the library to move the t-shirts away from the elevators when the Mayor ordered the entire exhibit ripped off the walls.

“The organizers of the exhibit repeatedly asked the Mayor how they could modify the exhibit to satisfy his concerns, but the Mayor offered no compromise,” said Mendel. Mendel further pointed out in court that the Municipality’s reasons for why the Mayor ordered the exhibit taken down have changed almost daily since June 5, with new arguments surfacing in testimony last Friday that had never even come up before.

The case is called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG], et al. v. the Municipality of Anchorage. Cooperating attorney on the case for the AkCLU is Allison Mendel of Mendel and Associates in Anchorage.

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