Newlyweds Fight City Hall, for a Photo

     CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) – A Missouri suburb unconstitutionally prohibits a professional photographer from taking pictures of a married couple in a public park, the photographer and the newlyweds claim in court.
     Photographer Josephine Havlak and William and Mary Hill sued the Village of Twin Oaks, its city clerk, and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, on Feb. 5 in St. Louis County Court.
     The Hills want Havlak to take their portrait on a Claude Monet-style bridge in Twin Oaks Park. But city law forbids it, and makes it punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 90 days in jail.
     Another city law limits reservations of the park to Twin Oaks residents, and gives Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church the authority to issue parking permits for the park. If the church denies the parking request, then the entire reservation application is denied, the Hills and Havlak say.
     They say they fear they will be prosecuted for getting their pictures taken in the park, or for taking the photo.
     They say the city law that bans commercial activity is unconstitutional because it is not content-neutral, not necessary and not narrowly drawn.
     Nor, the plaintiffs say, does the village have a compelling interest in banning People from hiring commercial photographers in the park.
     “There is no reason amateur photographers of weddings, for example, would be any more likely than commercial photographers of weddings to endanger public health and safety by, for example, blocking foot traffic on the bridge or causing wear and tear on the park by use,” the complaint states.
     “Commercial photography does not draw crowds or create any heightened or
     particularized public safety concerns.”
     The plaintiffs also say that giving a church carte blanche to deny parking applications without guidelines leaves courts with no way to make sure applications are decided in a religiously neutral way.
     “For example, an application for parking for a hypothetical meeting of a hypothetical group, ‘St. Louis County Atheist Association’, would give a church the power to regulate conduct of the citizens based on the church’s belief system, which would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” the complaint states.
     “As another example, there might be competing requests for a church group and a non-church group, and even making a decision on that basis would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the ordinances are unconstitutional, and want the defendants enjoined from enforcing them.
     They plaintiffs are represented by W. Bevis Schock of St. Louis.
     Twin Oaks, pop. 393, is an affluent suburb 20 miles west of St. Louis. The median household income is $68,489, more then $23,000 above the Missouri average, in a community that is 96.9 percent white, according to city-data.com.

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