SEATTLE (CN) – The city of Issaquah cannot prevent a Christian activist from handing out literature at its annual Salmon Days festival after a federal judge found the city’s “free speech zones” at the festival are unconstitutional.
Paul Ascherl challenged the city of Issaquah’s “free speech zones” in a federal civil rights action last month. Ascherl, an evangelical Christian from Snoqualmie, wished to hand out religious leaflets at Issaquah’s annual Salmon Days festival.
The two-day festival celebrates the annual salmon spawn in the Northwest, and attracts thousands of visitors.
“In conveying his message, Ascherl does not want to engage in any type of demonstration,” the complaint says.
“He does not ask for money or attempt to gather signatures. Nor does he seek to draw a crowd,” it continued.
Ascherl said last year a festival official called the police on him for handing out literature. When police arrived and spoke to Ascherl, they expressed concern that he was “harassing or pushing his literature on people.”
When Ascherl asked the officers about his constitutional rights, they showed him a copy of an Issaquah ordinance that prohibits literature distribution at the festival except for “two isolated free speech zones.”
Ascherl said he moved to a free speech zone that was removed from the festival and “found it practically impossible to engage in any effective expression,” and his attempts in the second zone “were similarly futile and practically useless.”
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Pechman agreed with Ascherl that the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to him, and the city’s “safety and congestion concerns are likely speculative.”
“By banning leafleting and permitting other more congestive activities, the Court finds [the ordinance] is not narrowly-tailored to serve a substantial government interest,” Judge Pechman wrote.
“[T]he City allows people to dress up in animal costumes, carry large signs, purchase and eat food, and perform music on its downtown sidewalks and streets,” the judge wrote.
“All of these activities are more likely to cause congestion than allowing Ascherl and others to distribute literature.”