Following ACLU Action, Officials Agree Not to Bar Activists at Weekend Festival in South Carolina

April 19, 2004 12:00 am

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COLUMBIA, SC – After the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina filed a lawsuit in federal court last week challenging the “Three Rivers Music Festival” organizers’ censorship of the marijuana law reform group NORML, the organizers agreed not to enforce the policy, the ACLU said today. The Midlands branch of NORML exercised its First Amendment right this weekend to distribute informational literature to attendees of the music festival without incident.

“The Festival organizers were engaging in clear-cut viewpoint discrimination against NORML,” said Denyse Williams, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “We are grateful that they came to their senses and realized that there is greater harm in suppressing free speech than allowing ideas we may not agree with to circulate freely.”

The Midlands branch of NORML was told that it could have booth or tent space only on the condition that it limit distribution of its material to those who approached NORML’s area, and that it could not actively hand out materials. The ACLU lawsuit noted that this limitation was imposed for the first time this year, even after NORML’s full participation in the event last year, because of the Festival organizers’ specific disagreement with NORML’s political message.

While the Festival policy put no limitations whatsoever on commercial speech, it prohibited all non-profit participants from disseminating any materials outside of their respective designated areas. Three Rivers Music Festival President Virginia Bedford issued a memo on April 9 directing non-profit organizations not to “walk around the festival site and approach people attending the festival with the express purpose of handing them printed materials about your organization, the goals of your organization or the purpose of your organization.”

The lawsuit, filed just one day before the Festival, asked the court to issue an immediate decision to allow NORML freely distribute its materials, and to declare the limitations imposed by the Festival organizers illegal. At a court hearing on April 16, the Festival organizers stated that they would not enforce the policy.

“NORML’s participation at the Festival was a success by all accounts,” said Henry Koch, President of Midlands NORML and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We were able to pass out all of our literature and spark a new way of thinking about marijuana laws in the people that attended the Festival. That’s all we wanted to do in the first place.”

The lawsuit is Henry Koch v. Fred Monk, et al. The complaint and other related documents are online at:

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