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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Heffalumps Allowed

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - An animal rights protester who wants to dress up like an elephant says Spectrum Arena is illegally refusing to let her protest on public property when events sponsored by Ringling Bros.' corporate parent come to town.

Spectrum Arena "is a tenant operating public property for the benefit of the City of Philadelphia," Marianne Bessey and Edward Coffin say in their federal complaint.

Spectrum Arena LP, which operates the Wells Fargo Center, is the only defendant.

Bessey and Coffin say they "object to the cruel mistreatment of animals by the Ringling Bros. Circus and seek to protest these practices on the sidewalks and throughways outside the Wells Fargo Center (the 'Center') when that venue hosts the circus and other events sponsored by Ringling Bros. parent company, Feld Entertainment."

Feld's Disney on Ice is to appear at the center on Dec. 22.

Bessey and Coffin say Spectrum allows ads for Feld Entertainment on the public land, but "prohibits all other leafleting and picketing on the sidewalks adjacent to the center when it is not approved by an even host."

They say they have participated in more than 100 animal-rights protests, and "have never observed disruption caused by their activities."

It's not Bessey's first go-round with Spectrum. She says that after Philadelphia police "refused to participate in suppressing [her] speech," Spectrum filed a civil trespass complaint against her, which is pending. She says that case may not be resolved by Dec. 22, and even if it is, it may not resolve the uncertainty about what she calls Spectrum's unconstitutional restriction of her speech.

She says she and Coffin "hope to hand out leaflets and hold signs and/or banners, and at least one of them may dress as an elephant or other circus animal. They would also like to have stationary signs, and/or folding tables that will hold literature about their cause, as well as flat-screen televisions on which they will play videos about the treatment of animals."

They say they need at least 2 weeks before the Dec. 22 event to organize their protest. They seek declaratory judgment that the state and federal constitutions allow them to stage their protest on public land outside the center.

They are represented by Mary Catherine Roper with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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