It’s bad enough that this case had to be fought at all, but the victory is still sweet. “Free Speech Victory in Dearborn, Michigan!,” from Answering Muslims, May 26:
Maybe I shouldn’t say “in” Dearborn, since the city only sought to suppress free speech in this case. An outside court (the United States Court of Appeals) had to impose Constitutional law on the city.
Dearborn hosts an annual Arab Festival on Warren Avenue. During the festival, the street is reserved, but the adjacent sidewalks are not reserved and therefore remain public property. Hence, prior to 2009, many people would distribute pamphlets, DVDs, CDs, etc., on the public sidewalks. However, when Ronald Haddad took over as Chief of Police, he announced that no one would be allowed to distribute materials on the public sidewalks. Indeed, he insisted that no one would be allowed to distribute materials within five blocks of the festival. (He justified his decision by claiming that he needed to keep the area clear for pedestrian traffic.)
From a Constitutional perspective, this was quite disturbing, as the government was officially limiting free speech on public sidewalks. Moreover, those of us who attended the festival noticed that security only enforced the policy on Christians. Muslims remained free to distribute their materials.
Pastor George Saieg, an Arab Christian from the Sudan (who has observed the effects of Islamic law in his home country and therefore understands the importance of free speech better than many of us) decided to take the case to court. The freedom fighters at the Thomas More Law Center (praise God for them) took the case free of charge, and they won.
Lower courts had ruled in favor of Dearborn (i.e. that Dearborn police could stop people from exercising their freedom of speech on the public sidewalks adjacent to the festival). The appeals court reversed the decision on Constitutional grounds. Here are two excerpts:
On the free speech claim, we REVERSE the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants and its denial of summary judgment to the plaintiffs. We thereby invalidate the leafleting restriction within both the inner and outer perimeters of the Festival.1 The restriction on the sidewalks that are directly adjacent to the Festival attractions does not serve a substantial government interest. The City keeps those same sidewalks open for public traffic and permits sidewalk vendors, whose activity is more obstructive to sidewalk traffic flow than pedestrian leafleting is. Moreover, the prohibition of pedestrian leafleting in the outer perimeter is not narrowly tailored to the goal of isolating inner areas from vehicular traffic. The City can be held liable because the Chief of Police, who instituted the leafleting restriction, created official municipal policy. . . .
The leafleting restriction is not a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. In the inner perimeter, the restriction does not serve a substantial governmental interest. In the outer perimeter, the restriction is not narrowly tailored. The defendants therefore violated Saieg’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Absent an injunction, Saieg will continue to suffer irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law. As a result, on the free-speech claim, we REVERSE both the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants and its denial of summary judgment to the plaintiffs….