Dallas Sued for Barring Overpass Protests
DALLAS (CN) - Dallas' ban on protests on highway overpasses, where signs could distract motorists, is unconstitutional, a protest group claims in court.
Overpasses for America sued the city on Wednesday in Federal Court.
The group describes itself on its website as "a nonpartisan grass roots movement" against "rampant corruption" in government. It seeks removal of members of Congress who engage in insider trading, crony capitalism and disregard the Constitution. It also wants "the corrupt" President Barack Obama criminally prosecuted.
Overpasses claims in its lawsuit that it has held 75 to 100 "free speech assemblies" in the city and has never caused any public or traffic safety issue.
It claims it held one such assembly on a Northaven overpass on the Dallas North Tollway on March 1 and there were no incidents, as it was organized in cooperation with Dallas police and the Dallas director of Homeland Security.
The group said its signs were not tied to the overpass and complied with city ordinances.
"Plaintiffs were looking forward to holding the free speech assembly on March 15, 2014 and garnered a positive anticipation for their event," the complaint states. "Plaintiffs, however, were informed that they would not be allowed to hold their free speech assembly because the Dallas Police Department was now obligated to enforce the City of Dallas' free speech ban."
Violators of the ordinance could face criminal charges and up to $500 in fines.
The group claims that when the ordinance was passed in January, several City Council members commented that the city had been sued twice already for "unnecessary" ordinances that infringe on citizens' free speech rights.
"A council member for the city of Dallas commented that the amendment at issue was 'an ordinance we don't need,'" the complaint states. "A council member for the city of Dallas also stated, relying upon information from the Department of Transportation for the State of Texas, that there is no data that there has ever been any safety issue due to free speech assemblies occurring on the City of Dallas' overpasses, let alone even evidence of a single traffic accident due to a free speech assembly in the city of Dallas. Despite this information, the city of Dallas passed the amendment and enacted its free speech ban."
Dallas was sued in federal and county courts in 2013, over a similar protest near the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University.
Protesters not affiliated with Overpasses stood on the corner of Mockingbird Lane and North Central Expressway holding signs that states "I [heart] the Bill of Rights" and "I love the First Amendment" during the January 2013 protest.
Those protesters claimed police ticketed them for violating a previous ordinance, after being warned to put the signs down or risk arrest.
City officials could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
Overpasses seeks actual damages and an injunction against violations of its First and 14th Amendment rights. It is represented by Jerad Najvar in Houston.