NYCLU Challenges NYPD Policy Barring Leafleting and Petitioning On Sidewalks Near Public Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 22, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – Acting on behalf of a youth advocacy group, the New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan challenging a police department policy that prohibits groups and individuals from engaging in peaceful First Amendment activity — including leafleting, petitioning, and picketing — on public sidewalks in front of city schools.

“Not only is the police department policy unconstitutional, it sends a terrible message to young people, who for the first time in their lives may be participating in advocacy and then end up being threatened with arrest,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn.

Under the policy, which has apparently been in place for years, young people have been arrested for handing out literature, and many groups and individuals have been forced by police officers to leave public sidewalks under threat of arrest.

The NYCLU filed today’s lawsuit on behalf of the Ya-Ya Network, a not-for-profit organization of young people who engage in advocacy on behalf of teenagers and young adults. The group is in the midst of a campaign to distribute informational flyers and forms on public sidewalks at New York City high schools about the rights of students to “opt-out” of ongoing efforts by the United States military to obtain student information from schools for military-recruitment purposes.

According to the lawsuit, Ya-Ya Network members have been forced from public sidewalks near three Manhattan high schools in the last eight days, and last spring a Ya-Ya Network staff member was arrested at a high school in Brooklyn for handing out flyers for another youth group about AIDS/HIV issues.

“Public sidewalks outside schools are an important place for students to give and receive information, and the First Amendment fully protects the right of New Yorkers to use these sidewalks for peaceful advocacy,” Dunn said. “We will ask the City to revoke this policy immediately. If it does not do so, we will seek an immediate court order.”

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