Court Rules Redding Library May Not Restrict Freedom of Speech; ACLU, Tea Party Share Victory
Shasta, CA – Superior Court Judge Monica Marlow granted a preliminary injunction on June 20 to prevent the City of Redding from enforcing a policy at the Redding Library that would have restricted the ability of residents to share their ideas and opinions in front of the library through peaceful leafleting. The ACLU of Northern California and the North State Tea Party teamed up to enjoin specific sections of the policy because it violates the California Constitution and the First Amendment.
"We are very pleased that the court recognized the significance of the space in front of the library as a place where the community comes to exchange and receive ideas," said ACLU of Northern California attorney Linda Lye.
Judge Marlow's ruling affirms many of the core arguments set forth in parallel lawsuits filed by the ACLU of Northern California and the North State Tea Party.
The judge found that the library is a traditional public forum in which citizens come and go for the primary purpose of expanding and challenging their ideas and knowledge. By law, the government must respect the most expansive view of freedom of expression in traditional public forums. (The defendants argued that the city has the authority to determine whether the library is or is not a public forum.)
The judge also said that the city lacks evidence that leafleting results in congestion or causes public safety problems, and said that requiring leafletters to remain inside a small area set aside for free speech serves no reasonable purpose.
"We took a stand to defend the library's role as a centerpiece of civic life, a vital forum for the democratic exchange of ideas and perspectives," said John Oertel, a leader of the Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Chapter of the ACLU, and one of the plaintiffs in the case. "This is a proud day for all of us who believe in the importance of protecting the First Amendment."
The "Outdoor Public Forum Policy" would have required people who wish to leaflet to obtain a permit, prohibited more than one organization from leafleting at one time, banned the distribution of materials requesting charitable contributions, restricted leafletters to a designated "free speech" bubble, prohibited leafleting in the library parking lot, and outlawed offensive utterances, gestures and displays.
On May 4, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Tea Party obtained a temporary restraining order from the Superior Court against enforcement of the policy, which the city adopted in April.
Defendants in the ACLU of Northern California lawsuit are the City of Redding, Redding City Council, and Library Director Jan Erickson.
UPDATE: The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction, affirming the public’s right to free speech in important public spaces.