Iowa Couple Sues For Right To Distribute Controversial Flyers

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
July 15, 1999 12:00 am

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DAVENPORT, IA — The American Civil Liberties of Iowa today filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Davenport for interfering with the rights of a couple to distribute controversial flyers at the city’s annual Bix Street Festival.

At issue in the case is whether ordinary citizens, who wish to make expressive use of traditional public space such as streets and sidewalks, can remain secure from attempts by civic leaders to squelch debate.

“The right to distribute flyers in the public square is a right which lies at the core of American liberty,” said Ben Stone, Executive Director of the ACLU of Iowa. “The City of Davenport does its citizens and guests a grave disservice when it deprives them of the chance to receive literature on a societal issue as important as marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs.”

In the suit, plaintiffs James and Melissa Getman say that Davenport City police officers seized their flyers entitled “Bix Smokes” and threatened them with arrest at last year’s Bix Street Festival. The flyer references specific passages of a book memorializing the jazz career of Bix Biderbecke and describes the role played by marijuana in the music and lives of Biderbecke and his contemporaries.

According to the complaint, Davenport police informed the couple that a sponsor of the street festival did not want them to hand out their brochures in the area.

The Getmans are seeking a restraining order from the court that would enable them to distribute their flyer at this year’s Bix Street Festival, to be held on July 30 and 31, 1999. The Getmans are also seeking a permanent injunction, attorney’s fees, litigation costs, and nominal damages.

The City of Davenport has not yet had an opportunity to respond to the lawsuit and no hearing dates have been set. The suit has been filed in the Davenport Division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa under docket number 3-99-CV-80127.

The Getmans are represented by ACLU of Iowa Cooperating Attorney Michael McCarthy of Davenport and ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Randall C. Wilson of Des Moines.

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