ACLU of Northern California Sues Berkeley: Ban on Roosters Should be a Wake-Up Call to Other Cities
Today the ACLU of Northern California announced plans to file a federal class-action lawsuit against the City of Berkeley for its ban on roosters within city limits. The ACLU pointed to a series of constitutional concerns that threaten us all.
“The ACLU has always stood up for those who are voiceless, or in this case, too loud,” said Abdi Soltani, ACLU-NC Executive Director and Berkeley resident, whose family was forced to turn over their roosters. Soltani reports his son is still sad from the forced separation from the family’s male fowl.
The lawsuit states that the city can place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech, but it cannot ban an entire class of speakers. The suit also charges that Berkeley-based roosters were not properly informed of their right to remain silent.
“The Supreme Court has long held that foul speech is protected by the First Amendment, so long as it is not legally obscene,” said ACLU-NC Staff Attorney Michael Risher. “And it is particularly ironic that we are seeing this ban here in Berkeley: The free speech movement was hatched in Berkeley, and speakers of all types have long flocked here to express themselves.”
ACLU-NC cited the Citizens United decision, which found that restriction on political speech is unconstitutional. “Citizens United makes clear that free speech extends beyond natural persons to corporations. Then surely it must extend to natural chickens grown without antibiotics or growth hormones,” according to the suit.
The following statement can be attributed to Abdi Soltani, Executive Director:
“The personal is indeed political. When my children had to give up two of our chickens simply because they were roosters, it made for a difficult conversation in my family. I had to tell my kids the roosters would ‘return to the farm.’ What will they think of their father when they realize that was a lie, that they were not going back to a farm, and their destiny was something else.”
ACLU-NC called on the city to develop alternatives, such as rehabilitation and treatment. The city should develop a vocal therapy program to teach roosters to crow more quietly. At the very least, the city should make an individual determination that a rooster has violated the noise ordinance, rather than cast blanket suspicion on all roosters. Once such a determination has been made, a rooster should be able to walk into city hall and file an appeal, present evidence in his defense, and have a hearing before a jury of his peers.
ACLU-NC cited many cases where city employees came to detain roosters. In the arrest records, the city employees cited as evidence the fact that the roosters continued to squawk and cockadoodle loudly during the arrest. But the ACLU-NC cited the 5th amendment right to not self-incriminate, and claimed that the city did not properly inform the roosters of their right to remain silent or that anything they squawk can and will be used against them in a court of law.
The ACLU-NC is proud to speak for those who are voiceless, or actually… in this case, those whose voices are too loud. In the long march for justice and equality, you sometimes have to ruffle some feathers to get results. We believe we are just scratching the surface of a deeper problem.
The United States is a nation of laws. And in the order of our laws, we have a pecking order. And the U.S. Constitution comes first.
Anticipating the city’s challenge to whether the rooster clients have standing, the ACLU-NC cited studies that show that in fact roosters spend a lot of time doing just that, standing.