REDDING, Calif. (CN) – The ACLU and the Tea Party won one together, sort of. The odd bedfellows sued Redding separately, but on the same side of the same issue in May, challenging a law that allowed just one group at a time to distribute leaflets in a free-speech bubble near the public library, and only with a permit.
The city rules, which were tossed on Monday by a Shasta County judge, also banned distribution of materials requesting charitable contributions, prohibited leafleting in the library parking lot, and outlawed offensive utterances, gestures and displays in the zone.
Superior Court Judge Monica Marlow granted a preliminary injunction that the ACLU of Northern California and the North State Tea Party requested, in separate complaints, in May.
Marlow wrote: “[T]his court finds that plaintiffs have a reasonable probability of prevailing on their claim that all three areas in question – the public open space on the entry side of the library, the entry and exit door area to the library, and the adjacent parking lot – are traditional public forums. There is substantial, indeed overwhelming, evidence which supports this finding. The library occupies an important center of the city’s intellectual, cultural, and political consciousness. The library was built with state money and funds passed by public vote. The library sits at the intersection of three public parks and is part of the general municipal area that surrounds City Hall. It serves as a gathering place for a wide cross-section of the community. The area in front of the entrance is similar to a sidewalk area, but encompasses even a larger area than a sidewalk, allowing enough space for communicative activity that does not impede entry or exit. The designation of the outside of the library as a traditional public forum for communicative activity is not incompatible with the use of the library. The reasonable expectation is that citizens entering the library are doing so for the primary purpose of being exposed to information which will add to their base of knowledge and ideas. It is reasonable to conclude that some citizens are entering for the intellectual stimulation derived from testing or challenging the foundation for their base of knowledge and ideas. The library is an area dedicated to the free exchange of ideas.”
Marlow found that the city must respect the most expansive view of freedom of expression in traditional public forums.
Redding had argued that the city has the authority to determine whether the library is or is not a public forum.
Marlow also ruled that the city lacks evidence that leafleting results in congestion or causes public safety problems, and said that requiring people to remain inside a small area set aside for free speech served no reasonable purpose.