Federal Judge Strikes Law Restricting Protest in Maine

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
December 22, 2005 12:00 am

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Maine Civil Liberties Union Hails Decision as Victory for Free Speech

BANGOR, ME — Ruling in a case brought by the Maine Civil Liberties Union, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock, Jr. today issued an order striking down an Augusta parade ordinance, after finding that the city unfairly imposed fees and rules on peaceful protesters seeking to march and gather in the state capital.

“In today’s landmark ruling, Judge Woodcock eloquently reminds us that we are a country where everyone, regardless of wealth, has a right to be heard on the important issues of the day,” said MCLU cooperating attorney David Webbert of the Augusta law firm Johnson & Webbert.

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 almost $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.

“There should be no cost associated with free speech,” said Zachary Heiden, an MCLU staff attorney and co-counsel in this case. “All people in Maine should have the right to express their views in the state’s capital, regardless of their political affiliations or their ability to pay.”

In 2004, the court imposed a partial temporary restraining order ending Augusta’s policy of requiring marchers to get insurance before holding an event. Today’s ruling found Augusta’s permit policy unconstitutional, citing evidence that Augusta only imposed fees on certain groups, as well evidence of the extreme cost of fees.

“To march is to speak,” wrote Judge Woodcock in a 51-page opinion. “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 MCLU called Judge Woodcock’s decision a victory for First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment was specifically designed to protect the rights of those who disagree with government policy to join together and speak out in protest,” said MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows. “The government should not be allowed to use the costs of traffic control as an excuse to suppress the views of those who oppose the war in Iraq.”

A copy of today’s decision in the case, Sullivan et al. v. City of Augusta, is online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/protest/23280lgl20051222.html

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